August 08, 2006

Out-X-ing X

A couple of days ago, I got email from Owain Evans about patterns of the form "out-X X":

Google gave examples of: Herod, Hamlet, Joyce, Woolf, Pound, Eliot, Shakespeare, Homer, Virgil, Dylan, Beethoven, Hendrix, Dante, Bush, Clinton.

I would be interested to see more creative examples, but I don't know a better way to Google it than just trying possibilities.

"Perhaps the most important reason for me is just pure aesthetic enjoyment. To me, the libertarian theory is beautiful. It out-mozarts Mozart, it's just a gorgeous thing, and I enjoy every day as a libertarian, it's just a big turn-on." Walter Block (Introduction to Libertarianism I)

It's easy to find more:

Dana Milbank, Washington Post White House correspondent whose work has shifted from "tough but fair" to "trying to out-Krugman Krugman" over the past two years or so, checks in with his first post-Election Day glowing profile of John McCain.

So, in order to out- Khomeini Khomeini, the General introduced his own brand of Islamisation.

And he can out-Einstein Einstein. I especially love his ability to translate a dog's growls and barks.

Fox is apparently attempting to out-Disney Disney in its marketing campaign for the animated feature Anastasia (1997)...

Jackson has proven that he can out-Spielberg Spielberg when it comes to over-the-top action, but anytime the fur isn't flying, he really needs an editor.

Frankly, it looked like they were trying to out-Hannity Hannity and out-O'Reilly O'Reilly all at the same time.

That would be like saying George Lucas is going to Out-Star-Wars Star Wars or Alan Moore is going to Out-Watchmen Watchmen.

LeAnn tries to out-Mariah Mariah here or out-Celine Celine and out-Britney Britney there.

There are also (fewer) examples of "out-X-ing X" and "out-X-ed X"::

Then the Democrats were out bushing Bush in their fidelity to the "stay the course until we win" mantra.

Those including several former students, who viewed themselves partly as out-Chomskying Chomsky.

In Tennessee, Bob Clement out-Bushed Bush on some issues.

Rudalevige's book demonstrates how George W. Bush out-Nixoned Nixon.

For a word or a short phrase to be used in these patterns is a pretty good diagnostic for a certain kind of fame. How many different instantiations of the pattern do you suppose there are on the web? 1,000? 10,000? 100,000? This is an excellent example of the kind of search for which you really need a snapshot of the web and the right kind of software to scan it efficiently.

[Update -- Ben Zimmer passed along this relevant section from the OED's current database:

  23. In phrases where the compound verb in out- is cognate with its object: to outdo a person or thing in the sphere of action in which they have particular expertise or aptitude, or for which they are renowned; to reach a level of accomplishment in a particular quality or property superior to that normally associated with it.
  The earliest examples, formed from nouns and verbs, are from Shakespeare. The construction is rare in the 17th and 18th cents, but becomes common from the 19th cent., when phrases formed on adjectives also appear.    

    a. Formed on verbs, as to out-equivocate equivocation, to outfish fish.


    b. Formed on proper names: to outdo a person, nation, or sect in respect of the attribute for which they are renowned, as to out-Nero Nero , to out-Auden Auden. Cf. OUT-HEROD v. See also OUT-BABBLE v.
  N.E.D. (1903) remarks: 'The vast development of this, as of so many other Shakesperian usages, belongs to the 19th c., in which such expressions have been used almost without limit.'

1604 SHAKESPEARE Haml. III. ii. 14, I would haue such a Fellow whipt for o're-dooing Termagant, it out Herod's Herod [1603 It out, Herodes Herod], pray you auoyde it. 1655 T. FULLER Church-hist. Brit. VIII. ii. §24 Herein, Morgan Out-Bonnered even Bonner himself. 1737 Common Sense I. 309 Even to out-bentley Bentley. 1800 J. WOLCOT P.S. in Wks. (1812) IV. 338 In his accoutrements out-Alexandering Alexander. 1870 J. R. LOWELL Among my Bks. 1st Ser. (1873) 3 He..out-Miltons Milton in artifice of style. 1886 Referee 21 Feb. 7/4 If the Provost-Marshall has..out-Neroed Nero. 1941 P. LARKIN Let. 31 Dec. in Sel. Lett. (1992) 29 None of it will be of any value anyway, so it's no use short circuiting myself in an effort to out-Auden Auden or out-Lawrence Lawrence. 1995 Daily Tel. 12 Oct. 6/1 She managed to out-Thatch one of the greatest Thatcherites of them all, the Social Security Secretary, Peter Lilley.

    c. Formed on common nouns, as to out-villain villainy, to out-infidel the infidel.


d. Formed on adjectives, as to out-old the old, to out-modern the moderns, to out-royal royalty.



Posted by Mark Liberman at August 8, 2006 04:26 AM