I’m interested in the usage of “out” as a verb in the phrase “She was outed for lip-synching” in the following paragraph of Time Magazine’s (February 5) article titled, “A lesson in crisis communication from Beyoncé.”

"As the story goes, without any introduction or explanation, the singer entered the room, asked the press representatives to stand, and belted out the national anthem in its entirety. In that moment, Beyoncé put to rest any lingering image and reputation damage suffered when she was outed for lip-synching the very same song at President Barack Obama’s recent inauguration. Her swift and transparent response in front of the right audience at exactly the right time is a textbook lesson for any entrepreneur facing a crisis."

-I liked the last line in particular.

From the context of the quoted sentence, I surmise “be outed for” means “be revealed / exposed to be.” But when I checked English dictionaries on line, Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘Out’ only as preposition and adverb, Merriam-Webster defines it only as adverb. Oxford Dictionary provides definitions of ‘Out’ as verb as well as adverb, preposition, and noun to mean;

[with object] 1. knock (someone) out. 2. (informal) reveal the homosexuality of (a prominent person). 3. (West Indian) extinguish 4. (dated) expel, reject, or dismiss

None of the above three dictionaries includes the definition of ‘out’ in the meaning of plain exposure or disclosure.

The Wisdoms English Japanese dictionary at hand also gives definitions of ‘out’ as verb, but in connection with homosexuals - coming-out:

  1. vt. (1)(in the form of be out) being disclosed to be a homosexual. (2) extinguish (fire). (3) expel.
  2. vi. (1) go out. (2)(accompanying will) emerge. become overt.

What does “be outed for” exactly mean in the above quote? Is it a popular idiom to mean something hidden / embarrassing becomes open / public?

Can I say "She is outed for having an affair with the actor," or “The country X is outed for finishing preparation for launching a missile with nuclear head” as a casual way of saying?

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    With regard to your final question, you could say, for example, "Country Y [or News Source Z] outed Country X's secret program to develop a missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead." Hence, you could also say that Country X's secret program has been outed.
    – Sven Yargs
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 3:31
  • Funny, in my country we use English phrase playback singing, while you using lip singing here. Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 7:47

3 Answers 3


All three of these meanings for out in Collins relate to this usage

  • 47.intr to be made known or effective despite efforts to the contrary (esp in the phrase will out) the truth will out
  • 48.tr (informal) (of homosexuals) to expose (a public figure) as being a fellow homosexual
  • 49.tr (informal) to expose something secret, embarrassing, or unknown about (a person) he was eventually outed as a talented goal scorer

In the first, the sense of the phrase is the truth will [come] out.

In the second, the phrase coming out of the closet was the counterpoint to being in the closet, probably based on the term closeted

Being In a state of secrecy or cautious privacy.

It seems that outing used to describe exposure of a variety of secrets, as shown in the third listed definition, may have been derived from these other two uses.

  • It seems the third (49 tr. informal) definition of Collins matches the context of the captioned quote. I wonder why other dictionaries don’t include this definition, but for ‘disclosure related with homosexuality (Wisdom English Japanese Dictionary).’ I wonder if all of OED, CED, and M-WED I consulted were online, and they were stingy with space to share with Collins' 49th definition. Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 21:12

"Outed" does indeed mean to be exposed, and comes (I believe) from the same metaphor as was used with respect to homosexuality: "in the closet" versus "out of the closet." In the 1970s (and no doubt earlier) a gay person could be "in the closet" (that is, secretly gay) or "out of the closet" (openly gay). Exposure of a person's homosexuality by third parties came to be known as "outing" and was sometimes done as a political act by "out" members of the gay community, either to point up the hypocrisy of a secretly gay public figure who criticized homosexuality or to give the non-gay portion of society a sense that people with different sexual orientations were not nearly so rare and easy to recognize as they might have imagined.

"Outing" survives in the sense of exposing in an embarrassing or otherwise negative light, even though the notion that homosexuality itself is embarrassing or otherwise negative has been largely overcome in many parts of the modern world.

  • Something very similar came up in conversation just a few minutes ago: the possible ambiguity of a sports figure being on the DL. DL can stand for "disabled list" (a.k.a. "injured reserve"), meaning that the player is hurt and won't be playing - but it can also stand for on the down-low, meaning "secret"; usually the secret that it refers to is "gay but not admitting it."
    – MT_Head
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 7:13

To out meaning of "to expose" is old, but was given a new life in recent decades.

It is at least mid-14th Century

Eufrosyne preyde Þat god schulde not outen hire to nowiht.

Or in Modern English (but keeping a double negative we would probably not use today):

St. Euphrosyne prayed that God would not out her to none.

St. Euphrosyne had dressed as a man and lived in a monastery to avoid marriage in favour of a life of ascetic celibacy.

While this shows it vastly predates the specific use about sexual orientation, this latter has certainly increased the currency of the word today. In relation to homosexuality, "outing" was referred to in three overlapping meanings:

  1. Of someone publicly stating their being gay, bisexual, transvestite or transexual. This was encouraged (and the social ability to do so, even more so) by pre-Stonewall homophile organisations like the Mattachine Society, but much more frequently and more vocally after the Stonewall Riots in the US in 1969. The decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK in 1967 greatly changed people's ability to be open like that in Britain, at around the same time.

  2. Of exposing people and hence damaging their reputation and status (a tactic used against homosexuals, and denounced by pro-LGBT groups).

  3. Of exposing people who are homosexual, but who act in ways gay-rights groups consider harmful to gay rights. E.g. politicians who support anti-gay policies.

This last resulted in a great many controversial cases in the late 1980s and through into the 90s. These controversies gave the word currency in this sense, and in the sense of exposing somebody's HIV status (at a time when HIV and AIDS were still much more prevalent among gay men than other demographics in Western countries, so there was a strong overlap between the groups affected), and eventually in other unrelated reasons, as seen in the quote about lip-synching.

While this again is just a particular use of the 14th Century sense, it almost certainly also relates to "out of the closet". This in turn may be of American origin, or may come from Polari. The latter seems slightly more likely. (It could even have developed separately in more place than one).

Polari is a gay cant that dates back to at least the 19th Century, and perhaps much further (it shares a lot with fairground cant that goes back to the 17th Century, and from which we get the word phoney) and largely died out in the late 1960s. It changed very rapidly, as cants will, and contained elements derived from Romany, Italian, French, Lingua Franca, Yiddish, a mix of London working class and middle class slangs, sailor slang, other cants (thieves' cant, Irish traveller cant, fairground cant), theatre slang and jargon, language games like back-slang, the odd bit of schoolboy Latin and some American slang learned from those handsome GIs who came over during the wars.

Which makes tracing if a word originated with it, and if so, when, rather difficult. Either way, "skeletons in the closet" is by far the most likely source for it in turn, and William Makepeace Thackeray used that in 1845, so that's a least from around then.

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    I had no idea it went as far back as St. Euphrosyne! Very cool find there. Also, I'd always assumed that Morrissey's "Piccadilly Palare" was a deformation of "palaver", but Polari seems much more likely.
    – MT_Head
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 17:06
  • @MT_Head Palare is another spelling of Polari, and that in turn comes from the Polari word for "talk", "chat" or "conversation" being used of the cant itself (and some related cants. Compare also Minker Taral - "Tinker's Talk" - as one of the names of Irish Traveller cant). The song you mention was on an album called Bona Drag which is Polari for "nice clothes". The lyrics "So bona to vada your lovely eek and your lovely riah" is Polari for "So good to see your lovely face and your lovely hair". Palaver is likely cognate with Polari (but both closer to parley than to each other).
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 17:24
  • @MT_Head Conversation I once had when asked for directions to the local gay bar: "... then it's on your right with neon saying 'Tea Dance' and 'Bona Polari' as if anyone knows what 'Bona Polari' means any more." "Ah, I'm afraid I do." "Well, me too, but I've an interest in cants and language." "Sadly, I'm just a very old queen".
    – Jon Hanna
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 17:30
  • When I first heard the song I was young, naive and living in a small town where "gay bar" meant "what we beat the #$%s with". (Also, pre-Internet.) Years later I'm old, naive, living in a big city with actual gay bars AND access to Google... and yet I'd never really given the song another thought. (I had to look up "tea dance" as well just now.) Ah well. You know what they say: what cant be cured must be endured.
    – MT_Head
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 17:51
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    No, I most definitely wouldn't have! I was raised in a strictly religious, piously homophobic household - but I lost my faith early, if I ever had it, and I lost my 'phobia when I found out that two of my closest friends were gay. However, that still left me far from clued-in, and you'd be amazed how dense people can be; I had no idea for YEARS what the Village People, Erasure, and the Pet Shop Boys were singing about. All three were quite popular in my high school, and although I was long gone by the time I figured it out I wish I could've seen my classmates' faces... Priceless!
    – MT_Head
    Commented Feb 6, 2013 at 19:17

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