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In my holidays I met a woman who is originally from Australia. She told me she lived in many places due to her husband's work and also traveled much around the world. Although she's already seen many places, she added that there are still a lot of places she'd really love to go to. I asked her:

Which places are outstanding?

What I actually intended to ask is which places she want to visit but she answered that question regarding which places she considers as most amazing.

I was aware of the other meaning of outstanding but I didn't expected she to perceive the question that way since the previous sentence of her was about "she hasn't seen everything yet".

Probably the sentence had been more clear if I'd say "still outstanding" but I now wonder if the usage of outstanding regarding "not yet done" is less common that people tend to interpret it as "excellent" if reasonable in context (which indeed is in this context).

Furthermore, is it perhaps an unusual collocation of outstanding and places regarding "not yet done". Considering examples of OALD and M-W Learner's Dictionary, they are limited to "unpaid" and "still existing problems". "Not yet visited places" are neither problems nor money issues.


I don't use as I don't want to restrict this question to one particular area. I don't believe there's a specific interpretation of this word peculiar to Australian English. For that reason, opinions from British and American people are also appreciated.

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So, what is your question? –  coleopterist Mar 21 '13 at 8:35
    
Still outstanding could be interpreted as "still excellent" since some places have been ruined by war or too many tourists :) Which places are on the top of your list to visit would be less ambiguous in my opinion, but still could be soliciting her opinion on places she would recommend, now I read it twice –  mplungjan Mar 21 '13 at 8:59
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That reminds me of the joke about the tourist who wanted to meet a farmer outstanding in his field. :) –  tchrist Mar 21 '13 at 12:02

1 Answer 1

If you think about the word outstanding itself, you'd notice how it generally means "unique in a group of similar objects or people (stands out, get it?).

It thus can both refer to something that is not-yet-done (while it's supposed to be, because the group that it belongs to has mostly done stuff), but it can also refer to a certain positive quality of uniqueness.

For me, however, the common idiom seems to be to usually use outstanding to mean astonishing, great, impressive, unique, unless followed by something that explicitly implies a task-based logic:

This is outstanding work, Harry Potter! (surely means 'great work', not 'work to be done').

I'll make a list of some outstanding tasks. (one can argue that the speaker has great tasks to do, but he/she probably meant not-yet-done).

In the end, it's all about context. In your question:

What are some outstanding places?

it seems a bit awkward to assume either interpretation. I would've said:

What are some places you're planning to visit?

Or:

What are some places you haven't yet been to?

Or even:

What places are on top of your list?

But this is going outside the scope of your question.

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'What places are on top of your list?' isn't exactly unambiguous itself. –  Edwin Ashworth Mar 21 '13 at 14:06
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@EdwinAshworth The OP was having a casual conversation; the question makes sense in context. –  Chris Mar 21 '13 at 14:19
    
@EdwinAshworth “She added that there are still a lot of places she'd really love to go to” is what precedes the question. –  Chris Mar 21 '13 at 14:20
    
"tasks outstanding" would be clearer in your example. I am not sure if it is grammatically correct, though. –  Frank Feb 20 at 21:38

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