"Luck out"

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Oct 16 20:32:22 UTC 2011

On 10/16/2011 9:26 AM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society<ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Jonathan Lighter<wuxxmupp2000 at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: "Luck out"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> The "adjective" form seems to me to be basically a passive
>> participle reflecting a transitive application.
> Maybe. But cf. "punched out," 'no longer able to punch; out of
> punches.' To "punch somebody out" means something entirely different.

A possibility which I hadn't considered, but still I think only one of

> "The Press: Lucked Out" is indeed the entire headline. The phrase
> doesn't reappear in the article.
> I prefer to consider "lucked out" as an adj. in cases like this
> because, as the headline shows, it conveys its meaning despite a
> somewhat obscure semantic structure.


Possibility: "Lucked Out" elliptical for "He [Finally] Lucked Out"
meaning "He [finally] got bad luck" ('negative' intransitive verb).

Possibility: "Lucked Out" elliptical for "He Was [All] Lucked Out"
meaning "His luck had run out" (adjective).

Possibility: "Lucked Out" elliptical for "He Lucked Out, but ..."
meaning "He had good luck, but then later ..." ('positive' intransitive

Possibility: "Lucked Out" elliptical for "He Was/Got Lucked Out" meaning
"He was knocked out by bad luck" (passive transitive verb).


> The writer must have assumed that the meaning was transparent. The
> rarity of the form suggests, perhaps, some regional restriction. (Cf.
> positive "anymore," which is, for many of us, equally bizarre, while
> perfectly transparent to others.)
> What's certain is that both positive and negative applications have
> existed, and that the positive ones appear to come earlier and the
> negative ones have never been as firmly established.
> One of the blog comments observes that the HDAS exx. of negative "luck
> out" are from "suboptimal sources."  I believe that reflects a very
> weak "literary" tradition rather than a questionable existence.
> I recall my surprise at the certainty with which the two middle-aged
> New Yorkers quoted in HDAS asserted - as a by-product of another
> conversation - that "luck out" was "originally negative" in their
> experience. They had met just recently.  Perhaps they were thinking of
> "lucked out" adj. rather than "to luck out."

I think old personal recollections are of very limited value for the
usual several reasons. Still they are of interest in a case like this
one where there is little 'solid' evidence.

I think appearance of a word without documented context, e.g., in a
dictionary entry or word-list, is limited for similar usual reasons.

In the current case, there are solid (although sparse) 1950's-1970's US
examples of 'negative' intransitive "luck out", so there is no question
of existence ... although we don't see evidence of widespread WW II era
use (as JL agrees, I think).

On-line modern examples of this "luck out" = "get bad luck" exist ...
maybe all or nearly all from non-US writers (I did only a quick glance).

What do the non-US-an scholars think?

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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