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Men attending the Pride London Festival
Two men attending the Pride London Festival. Image courtesy of Pride London



Listen to Professor Crystal

In the early 1990s, the word 'out' came to be used as a verb. 'To out someone' meant to tell the world that the person was a homosexual, usually a public figure. It was short for 'coming out of the closet', 'out of your cupboard', 'out of your house'.

It then developed. People who do the 'outing', who tell the world about the people, are 'outers'.

And then, people have been 'outed'. So, all kind of other usages developed. Gay rights activists took up the word. And now there are several websites with 'out' in the title.

'Coming out' is now a positive term, referring to anyone who decides to tell others about their sexuality, men or women. There was a flurry of usage in early 2006, as British MPs admitted to being gay. Note the usage, a headline read: 'Quite a few MPs have come out in parliament.' Now, that's not referring to the fact that they're leaving the room! It isn't just a verb of motion any more.

So be prepared for some unusual usages. A news report recently talked about 'electing its first "out" gay president'. "Out" was in inverted commas, as a sort of adjective. Usage is still broadening. To be out is in!


download transcriptTranscript (pdf - 43k)

download lesson planLesson plan - Teacher's notes, student worksheets with answers (pdf - 73k)

download audioAudio - Professor David Crystal on "Out" (mp3 - 562k)
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