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The OED defines the verb freak-out as meaning:

  1. to freak out (occas. without out): to undergo an intense emotional experience, to become stimulated, to rave, esp. under the influence of hallucinatory drugs. Also trans., to cause (a person) to be aroused or stimulated in such a way. (Also in more trivial uses.) So
    freaked-out adj. affected thus. freaking-out n.

Examples of freak-out are given from 1965. They stop in 1970, suggesting that this was perhaps a word of the 60s, though I still hear it being used mostly by Americans, a lot during the recent election campaign.

Typically the OED's examples are in both an active and passive context.

1970 It 27 Feb. 11/1 Aage leaps about and shouts at them and freaks them out.

1970 Nature 23 May 704/1 One question asked the respondents how often they had seen other people ‘freak out’, that is, have intense, transient emotional upsets.

The first of the above is a transitive verb, the second an active intransitive verb.

Sometimes people get freaked-out, sometimes they freak-out. In a newspaper article I have been reading on people who supported Donald Trump, a 25-year-old man, James Morrison says I was freaked out about Hillary because there were 33,000 emails....So, who or what did the freaking-out? Hillary is an indirect object governed by 'about'.

Now that does not sound quite the same sort of thing someone saying they freaked-out because of the 33,000 emails...

So how does the meaning change here between these two uses? Can anyone throw any light on the matter, please?

Edit. After giving further thought to this and after a helpful dialogue of comments with others, which has better crystallised the issue in my mind, I feel I should re-pose the question. What concerns me is that freaking-out, it seems, can be both a self generated experience (he freaked out) or something that is inflicted upon one (it freaked him out). I cannot for the moment think of any other verbs which behave in quite this way. Can anyone else?

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    re "the first of the above is in the passive, the second an active verb". How so? Both are grammatically active, but the difference is that the first example uses freak out as a transitive verb, and the second as an intransitive. – Armen Ծիրունյան Nov 16 '16 at 11:06
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    @Jason you don't have to type out one's name completely to tag them. Just any unique prefix will do. But if you're wondering, you'd need to use an Armenian keyboard to type that :) – Armen Ծիրունյան Nov 16 '16 at 11:10
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    You are conflating the everyday and the grammatical senses of 'passive'. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 16 '16 at 12:29
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    Even in your edited version, you are conflating the everyday and the grammatical senses of 'active'. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 16 '16 at 13:29
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    Questions shouldn't require explanatory comments. / 'Freaked out' may best be regarded as an adjective; as with 'bewildered', 'confused', 'tired [out]', 'exhausted', 'frightened', 'spaced out'... the agent / inanimate cause is backgrounded so far as to be rarely considered. 'X freaked him out' / 'He was freaked out by X' is obviously a different matter. – Edwin Ashworth Nov 16 '16 at 15:58
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You're touching on a number of concepts here: transitive, intransitive; active, passive; grammatical, semantic.

When I heard about the election results,

  • Transitive, active:

    it freaked me out.

  • Intransitive, grammatically active:

    I freaked out.

  • Adjective or possibly grammatically passive:

    I was freaked out.

  • Past participle/adjective, semantically passive meaning 'anxious':

    I felt freaked out.

  • Grammatically passive:

    I was freaked out by the news.

  • Can also be used in a nounish sense: It was a total freak-out. – Hot Licks Nov 16 '16 at 13:20
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    I don't disagree with you here. Though I suppose the real problem I'm having concerns what it means to be freaked-out. It would appear both to be the result of a force which acts upon you it freaked me out, and one that is generated involuntarily from within you I freaked out. Some may argue that this is more a question for philosophy, but it is a language issue too. – WS2 Nov 16 '16 at 15:02
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    @AlanCarmack It is not possible to say She bewildered, but one can apparently say She freaked out. Freaking-out seems rare, in that it can both be self-generated (he freaked out) and an infliction upon one (it freaked me out). – WS2 Nov 16 '16 at 16:33
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    All right then look up ergative or possibly middle @WS2. Eg, She broke, it broke her. – Alan Carmack Nov 16 '16 at 16:56
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    @AlanCarmack Excellent! Eureka! The answer is that freak-out is an example of an ergative verb. (Some languages, Basque and Eskimo, have ergative nouns, where the doer of an action becomes the object) Though a better example might be He boiled the kettle - The kettle boiled. But if you work your thoughts into an answer I will both vote for it and accept it as the correct one. This has been a useful team exercise. – WS2 Nov 16 '16 at 17:30
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To freak is both a transitive and intransitive verb, your sentences are an example of its common usages:

(Verb Forms)

  • [intransitive, transitive] (informal) if somebody freaks or if something freaks them, they react very strongly to something that makes them suddenly feel shocked, surprised, frightened, etc.

  • freak (out) My parents really freaked when they saw my hair.

  • freak somebody (out) Snakes really freak me out.

OLD

  • I would say the same to you that I have just said to Mitch. The real problem I'm having concerns what it means to be freaked-out. It would appear both to be the result of a force which acts upon you it freaked me out, and one that is generated involuntarily from within you I freaked out. Some may argue that this is more a question for philosophy, but it is a language issue too. Perhaps it is no different to I worried about it, and it worried me? What do you think? – WS2 Nov 16 '16 at 15:05
  • @WS2 - when used as a transitive verb it indicates who/what is freaked-out. The origin the the "freak" is a matter of opinion. – user66974 Nov 16 '16 at 15:10

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