Why do English people employ the expression "out of respect" (for dead people, for example) to denote respectful attention, whereas other expressions based on "out of" are more denoting:

  • something now missing ("out of sight", "out of milk"),
  • a strictly negative sense ("out of question"),
  • a movement out ("move out of the house"),
  • or a count from a whole ("5 out of 100 children")?

What is the original (historical) common meaning for all those expressions, what is the base picture?

  • 2
    I would not see out of sight and out of milk as similar usages, to be frank. If something is out of sight, it is not missing sight, it means it is not seen anymore.
    – oerkelens
    Feb 5 '18 at 15:12
  • So we have six different meanings for 'out of', demonstrating how important to language and how difficult in language-learning are the quiet little things called 'prepositions'.
    – Nigel J
    Feb 5 '18 at 17:15
  • For me, respect is like milk, you have a certain quantity of it vis-à-vis someone and there may be a time when it runs out....just like milk.
    – Lambie
    Feb 5 '18 at 18:04
  • You're talking about two different meanings of "out".
    – Hot Licks
    Feb 5 '18 at 21:41

This usage dates back to Middle English; the relevant definition in the OED is:

4a. From (something) as a cause or motive; as the result or effect of; because or by reason of.

The earliest example is:

Eleuſiuſ iherde þiſ. & feng hiſ neb to rudnin ant tendrin ut of teone.
Þe Liflade of St. Juliana : from two Old English manuscripts of 1230 A.D.

Elusisus heard this and began to be red of face and to burn out of vexation.
Translation: Early English Text Society: Original series

This same thing is noted in the book Old and Middle English:

The ut of is used in a new sense, where the mental cause of an action is to be marked; a tyrant began tendrin ut of teone, 'to burn, out of annoyance'

There are several senses of out of that predate this one according to the OED, such as "1a. From inside (a containing space or thing)" (modern example: "draw a number out of a hat") and "3a. From a place or thing as a source, origin, or provenance; deriving from." (modern example: "paid it out of my own pocket"). They all have to do with specifying where something is coming from, which is no different than the sense in question.

If you don't have access to the OED, you can also reference the Middle English Dictionary.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.