[Ads-l] outsize[d]

Stanton McCandlish smccandlish at GMAIL.COM
Mon Feb 1 01:34:11 UTC 2021

I was surprised at first to not find "outsize[d]" listed at Ben
Yagoda's *Not One-Off
Britishisms* website.  I had a vague sense of it being British, and not
being very common in the American lexicon until the last decade or so.  I
have noticed a sharp increase of it in US publications over about the last
two years.  The "outsize" version has been especially jarring to me, since
it doesn't match writing habits I'm used to with words like this (e.g., we
tend much more to write "undersized portion" and "oversized coat",
retaining the final "-[e]d" suffix).  There may be a regional dialect
component to this though.  Digging around, this dropping actually does seem
to be more common in American than British English, which is not the result
I expected to see.

More specifically, I'm not overwhelming use of either spelling of
"outsize[d]" in British news, nor a lean toward the shortened version.  But
the term appears not to have really existed until shortly after WWI, which
is when American and British English re-exchanged a lot of vocabulary, and
was also the dawn of the era of faster, cheaper travel, then movies and
radio becoming a big deal.  Then usage of "outsize[d]" took during WWII,
another period of intense contact between the US and UK.  There's something
about this particular use of "out-" that seems non-American. It reminds me
of the Northern Briticism "outwith".

I don't have access to all the fun paywalled academic research tools, but
Google Ngrams is free and easy.

* "outsize[d]" was virtually unknown until around 1920, and was still rare
until WWII; it became quite popular in the 1940s. Then it took off like a
rocket (especially the "outsized" spelling in particular) in the 2000s.
Just as a control I included "outsizing" in the search to test whether a
verbal usage ("Our company is outsizing the competition" or whatever) has
any currency I was unaware of; it does not. Neither do hyphenated forms.

* US usage in particular follows the same curve, except a blip centering on
1980 is more of a hump (something in that era made it briefly popular
before it slumped hard (to or below mid-1970s levels) by the late 1980s.
"Outsize" is not getting nearly as much traction as "outsized", though it
was the other way around when the terms first hit American English.
"Outsized" was in the lead between the two before 1990.  While both are
increasing in frequency, the takeoff of "outsized" started sooner (late
1990s, versus early 2000) and has been nearly a cliff-face, while the
increase in "outsize" has been more of a foothill climb.

* UK usage is radically different.  The term, mostly in the "outsize"
spelling has been common in BrEng since shortly after its introduction, was
overwhelmingly more commonly used in UK than US publishers by 1940.  By the
late 1950s it was gradually declining, with "outsize" losing more favor
(or, I suppose, favour) than "outsized" was gaining.  This total decline
stopped in the early 2000s, with both spellings on the rise again, then
"outsize" dropped again around 2010. However, "outsized" has seen almost as
steep a usage climb in UK English as in US English, starting in the late
1990s, and going steep by the early 2000s.

*Curiously, use in English-language fiction is a bit different from the
curve for English in general (first result above), showing "outsize"
holding out longer, but a more gradual increase in "outsized" from the late
1960s to mid-1980s, then a decline in both forms including into the 2000s
and 2010 even as usage is going up in nonfiction.

I'm not sure how good these results really are because it's mostly based on
book scans, and much of the professionally published usage of these words
is in news media (I would guesstimate that over 95% of it is). The Google
Ngrams corpora are comparatively limited both as to total content and to
relevance of the source material.

The construction is weird to my ears and eyes, since this usage of "out-"
to mean 'over-' or 'excessively' or 'comparatively greater' is uncommon,
though clearly related to the sense of 'better' or 'more effectively' in
terms like "out-compete" and "outrun".  The version without the final
"-[e]d" seems weird to me. I encounter it more often in East Coast
publications with some "Mid-Atlantic English" pretensions, than in news
from the Midwest to West., though "outsized" remains dominant even in New
England (just not in *The New York Times*).  Yet I'm not sure Mid- or
Trans-Atlaticism has anything to do with it after all, since neither
spelling is (presently, anwyay) particular prevalent on the other side of
the pond.  It's a bit mystifiying.

I did various google searches of forms like:
   "outsize" site:nytimes.com
at various mainstream news sites, producing results like:

* *NYTimes.com* has used "outsize" over 12,000 times;
* but "outsized" only a bit over 5000 times.
I believe *NYT* to be the primary vector of the infection of American
English with the "outsize" meme-virus; see below about the "outsized"

But this trend is not universal in that part of the country, even at the
other contender for the coveted Most Pretentious and Annoying Writing Style
in America award:
* *NewYorker.com* has used "outsize" only about 300 times;
* but "outsized" around 1700 times.

*BostonGlobe.com* may be creeping toward parity:
* "outsize" almost 700 times;
* "outsized" just short of 1000 times.

Same-ish with *WashingtonPost.com*, but leaning toward the short version:
* "outsize" 3700 times;
* "outsided" 2300 times.

*Wall Street Journal* (domain *WSJ.com*) just loves the heck out of this
word, but only the longer version:
* "outsize" about 5500 times
* "outsized" a whopping 103000 times
I suspect *WSJ* is the primary vector by which "outsized" is gaining
currency in the US.

*SFGate.com* (*San Francisco Chronicle* content and a lot of *SF Examiner*
content before they re-split):
* "outsize" about 300 times
* "outsized" about 300 times
*SFChronicle.com* (but will not have full-text search results due to
* "outsize" under 600 times
* "outsized" 500 times
*SFExaminer.com*: both forms barely appear at all, but "outsize" is the
loser again.

* "outsize" just short of 1800 times
* "outsized" over 4700 times

* "outsize" about 1500 times
* "outsized" about 3400 times

*StarTribune.com* (Minnesota)
* "outsize" under 300 times
* "outsized" over 1000 times

*USA Today* is technically an East Coast publication, but is aimed
primarily at "middle America" readers, and not surprisingly avoids
"outsize[d]" about as much as *Star Tribune* does, with the same lack of
enthusiasm for the shortened variant:
* "outsize" under 500 times;
* "outsized" 1500 times.

*Houston Chronicle* (biggest paper in the South): The terms barely appear
at their *Chron.com* site, with "outsized" clearly preferred, and the same
pattern at *HoustonChronicle.com*.

Same at *Courier-Journal.com* (Louisville; probably the biggest paper in
the Deep South, i.e. exclusive of Texas and Florida)

So, the more metropolitan a US newspaper is, the more likely it seems to
use either form of this word (with "big-little city" San Francisco possibly
being more resistant to it).  However, these search results are not
necessarily all that great; various content is paywalled at different
sites, and it's now clear how far back the Google engine is looking. Doing
more refined searches at news.google.com (which allows date-range
filtering) might be more elucidating, though only up to a point, since it
doesn't include OCR content from old newspapers, just stuff published
online since Google came into existence and started indexing content.

I did similar searches at some major UK news sites, and was surprised to
find that *TheGuardian.com* uses the two spellings nearly equally but not
all that frequently, while *BBC.com* has all but banned either form.  This
doesn't seem to be a Briticism after all, or at least not a recent one.
The WWI origin, WWII spike in usage, and the not-very-American-ish nature
of it suggests to me that it did originate in the UK, but fell out of use
there, then for unknown reasons took off again in the US quite recently.
Stanton McCandlish
McCandlish Consulting
5400 Foothill Blvd Suite B
Oakland CA 94601-5516

+1 415 234 3992


"*History*, n. An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant,
which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly
—Ambrose Bierce, *The Devil's Dictionary* (1911)
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And when you're born in America, you're given a front row seat.
And some of us get to sit there with notebooks."
—George Carlin, *Archive of American Television* interview (2008)

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

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