How do the principal 2021 meanings of "but" relate, if any, to its original meaning of "outside"? E.g. how does "no more than; only" appertain to "outside"?


  1. Used to introduce a phrase or clause contrasting with what has already been mentioned.
  1. [with negative or in questions] Used to indicate the impossibility of anything other than what is being stated.
  1. [archaic with negative] Without it being the case that.


  1. No more than; only.

but [OE]

But originally meant ‘outside’. It was a compound word formed in prehistoric West Germanic from *be (source of English by) and *ūtana (related to English out). This gave Old English būtan, which quickly developed in meaning from ‘outside’ to ‘without, except’, as in ‘all but me’ (the sense ‘outside’ survived longer in Scotland than elsewhere). The modern conjunctive use of but did not develop until the late 13th century.

Word Origins (2005 2e) by John Ayto. p 84 Left column.

  • You can negotiate its value.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 1, 2021 at 0:00
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    Please search the site properly before posting a question. english.stackexchange.com/questions/65780/… , english.stackexchange.com/questions/9235/… Jun 1, 2021 at 19:32
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    @MarcosGonzalez Please read questions properly before rebuking me, and linking unrelated questions. Your linked questions aren't about, don't even tag, etymology! They don't even include any info on the etymology of but.
    – user50720
    Jun 3, 2021 at 2:25
  • @hims If you read the questions carefully (and the answers proffered to your question so far), you would realize that what you call "original meaning" of 'but' is still current. Jun 4, 2021 at 11:19

1 Answer 1


'But' moves you "outside of reach" of the logical options (e.g. I would help you, but ... reasons that move me 'out of reach' of helping you.)

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