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This still strikes me as odd, even after 12 years in the US. Being out of luck is a bad thing, but lucked out is a good thing, e.g. we 'lucked out' and were able to get two extra tickets for the show. Any idea why?

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There is also lucked in. –  Mehper C. Palavuzlar Jan 23 '11 at 9:38
    
Also lucked up, as poker players are saying now. It means catching lucky cards, usually late in a hand against a previously stronger hand. –  Robusto Jan 23 '11 at 11:38
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Interesting that in British English the expression has the exact opposite meaning. en.wiktionary.org/wiki/luck_out –  Andrei Vajna II Jan 23 '11 at 13:17
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@Mepher: Never heard it. It sounds nonsensical to me, as I'm sure most other Brits would also feel. –  Noldorin Jan 23 '11 at 21:16
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Any unknown idiom sounds nonsensical; that is what makes it an idiom. –  Jay Jan 24 '11 at 15:10

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

It means that you are replete with luck. Think of similar phrases like 'all decked out', e.g.

The house was all decked out with balloons and banners for the birthday party.

and

Spread the sheet out

Out in all these contexts means 'the fullest extent or amount'.

In fact it means the same in 'out of luck', meaning you have absolutely no luck (no luck to the fullest extent). It's just the phrase is understood differently.

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Interestingly, I've known this phrase (lucked out), to be used in the negative quite often, probably mistakenly, with the meaning "ran out of luck". –  Orbling Jan 23 '11 at 11:46
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@Orbling: Not mistakenly; it's a US/UK difference. It does mean "ran out of luck" in British English. –  ShreevatsaR Jan 26 '11 at 3:16
    
@ShreevatsaR: Ah good, thought I was going mad. Another one of those reversals of meaning that so help ensure clarity in communications between the countries. ;-) –  Orbling Jan 26 '11 at 12:57

Perhaps the different interpretations either side of the Atlantic have something to do with him the mindset of the different populations. The UK, being naturally pessimistic, see themselves as out of luck. Whereas the USA (and Australia for that matter) being a younger, more positive, optimistic country feel they are smiled upon, blessed, deserving and have no doubt that Lady Luck is in their corner.

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Welcome to EL&U, Michael . We appreciate your input. We also appreciate links to sources where applicable. :) –  medica Jan 2 at 6:35
    
As an Australian and New Zealander, I have never heard people use the term lucked out to mean having good luck. If you lucked out you're right out of luck. –  CapnPants Jul 17 at 7:44

out of luck - luck has run out; is gone, depleted

lucked out - escaped/got out of a potentially bad situation, or emerged/came out ahead, thanks only to luck

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+1. This is how I interpret "lucked out" as well. But I think people use it as a set phrase without any analysis. –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Jan 24 '11 at 14:39

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