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The title of this Ars Technica piece reads:

Why Steven Sinofsky is out at Microsoft

Concretely, I'm wondering why (if) "out at" is correct – I initially thought "out of" would be the correct option.

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It's fine at is. Think of "is out" as being roughly the same as "was fired" – so, it's another way to say: "Why Sinofsky was fired at Microsoft". "Was fired" refers to the action (what happened to Sinofsky), "is out" refers to the state (i.e. the state of Sinofsky's employment status at the company). It's simply two ways to say essentially the same thing. –  J.R. Nov 14 '12 at 1:01
I view this a bit differently. When using "out of" the two words go together, but in the use of "out at" the two words are simply next to each other. The pertinent phrases are "Steve is out" and "at Microsoft". Similar to the way things can be "in"- Ironman is in, The Shadow is out, Steven Sinofsky is out. Where is he out? At Microsoft. This is different than Steve is out of Microsoft. Along the lines of "I'm out of here"- meaning I'm leaving. –  Jim Nov 14 '12 at 1:20
For those who have voted it to be "Not a Real Question", please state what is "difficult to tell about what is being asked here". This is an interesting question. +1 –  coleopterist Nov 14 '12 at 5:43
@FumbleFingers: In this case, an answer should show why the asker's assertion is wrong - by explaining how "out at" is correct, not just from grammar standpoint but with meaning in this sentence. Personally, I found the sentence bizarre - I'd understand "out of", but in this context I just don't get the meaning of "out". In other words, a question "is X correct? Isn't Y what should be used instead?" should be answered with "X is correct (and means...)" and not closed as not a real question or nonconstructive! –  SF. Nov 14 '12 at 9:10
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1 Answer

up vote 1 down vote accepted

I agree that the use of out at in this sense is odd and a tad ambiguous. I suspect that it might be peculiar to American English.

Why Steven Sinofsky is out at Microsoft

If I had not already been aware of Sinofsky leaving Microsoft, I might have interpreted the above headline as:

Why Steven Sinofsky is over at Microsoft

In other words, it sounds as if Sinofsky is over there at Microsoft to do something.

The following are random examples from Google books where out at X is being used similar to over at X:

My husband is as nervous over it as I am, but he is out at his work all day, while I get no rest from it.

"The chief is out at the fire," the dispatcher told him.

Your assistant, Peter, is out at lunch. Leave a message for him, explain what has happened and ask him to cancel your afternoon appointments.

Perhaps it is a naive view and in the summer everybody is out at the pub, or simply, as I read is a growing tendency, just browned off with the box.

The following are random examples from Google Books where out at X is being used in the same sense as out of X:

Republican Osberger is out at Arthur Young.

PD/afternoon jock Tom Bradley is out at WKKX St. Louis. Operations director Russ Schell assumes his PD duties and is accepting T&Rs for the afternoon slot.

There appear to be fewer examples of this sort (which doesn't really say much) and all seem American as well. Perhaps it's a baseball reference?

I agree with the OP that "Why Steven Sinofsky is out of Microsoft" would have been a far clearer choice of headline.

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I don't agree that out of is "far clearer" – it, too, is subject to misinterpretation. (Sinofsky could be an investor, and he could be "out of Microsoft stock", for example). That aside, I agree with the thrust of your answer, that adjacent prepositions can have different meanings in different contexts. I think the real lesson is, when reading adjacent prepositions in a newspaper headline, sometimes you'll have to read the article to disambiguate possible interpretations. –  J.R. Nov 14 '12 at 9:49
@J.R. Everything is subject to misinterpretation and perspective. However, from where I am sitting and in my general experience, "He is out of Microsoft" is far more representative of a firing than "He is out at Microsoft". While you are quite right that one ought to read the entire article, the whole point of headlines is to provide an in-a-nutshell summary of it; if it does not do this, then it is simply a bad headline. With that said, out at might be perfectly understood by an American audience. –  coleopterist Nov 14 '12 at 14:30
Given that it's a headline, it can't mean "He's out visiting Microsoft". I would understand that "out of" indicates a voluntary departure ("I'm out of here!") and "out at" indicates sacking. He was at Microsoft; and now he's out. –  Andrew Leach Nov 14 '12 at 16:25
@coleopterist: If he was there as a consulting temp, I think the headline would simply read: Sinofsky at Microsoft. It's likely that a headline writer would simply forgo the "out", if merely wanting to communicate that Sinofsky was there. –  J.R. Nov 14 '12 at 16:54
Let's not debate this too much. Headline writers have the unenviable task of scrunching an in-depth summary into a very few words using an ambiguous language, leading to many possible interpretations, some of them rather amusing (just try Googling "funny newspaper headlines"). Heck, Sinofsky could be admitting he's a homosexual, and the headline "Sinofsky is out at Microsoft" would work (see Meaning 37). Sinofsky could also be a computer (like Watson at IBM) that crashed – guess what? Sinofsky is out at Microsoft works again. –  J.R. Nov 14 '12 at 17:35
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