In a video about undercover police work, the expression to “show out” comes back twice:

No wonder he got shot, to be honest. Mind you he showed out, didn’t he? Golden rule. [3:46]

You never break cover. The golden rule is you never show out. [10:43]

I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen this used without a complement (e.g. I’ve seen “show someone out” but this is visibly different). I’m not sure I understand it fully, is it just synonymous with breaking cover? Is it a colloquial way of saying “showing your hand”? Am I missing some subtlety? The speaker is English, if that’s relevant.

Any dictionary I’ve consulted only mentions the transitive form, i.e. show [sb] out:

Just to name a few. This question also did not appear elsewhere in the English SE nor the English Language Learners SE.

  • 1
    I suspect the answer is in the second example. Never show out = never break cover, that is, never give away that you're police. Commented Dec 4, 2021 at 21:24
  • Kind of weird closing this as off-topic. It certainly isn’t a common way of using “show out”, so definitely not on topic for ELL, and the definition is also missing in all dictionaries I’ve checked (I’ve edited in a few to show research). @DjinTonic’s answer is great and points out this is colloquial hence the difficulty in pinning down the exact meaning.
    – Cimbali
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 15:10
  • Not weird at all. There was no research shown until your edit. // I believe '[English] Wiktionary' has the largest listing of headwords among English dictionaries, and, especially where a colloquial / informal / slang usage is suspected, is always worth checking. Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 15:30
  • @EdwinAshworth Sorry, I went by this recommendation and examples linked in there. Is there some more up-to-date guidance to use? I’ll make sure to check wiktionary as well next time.
    – Cimbali
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 15:57
  • 1
    a telescope?" "Can 'show out' be used as an intransitive multi word verb?" As you've now added correctly attributed and linked research (showing 'no support for this usage here' ... still totally acceptable evidence of research), it's a valid question on ELU and I've voted to reopen the edited version. Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 16:21

1 Answer 1


show out (v.)

(intransitive, colloquial, informal, slang) To display or present oneself; represent. Wiktionary

To present oneself, especially in a public or performative manner.
The pop star always shows out with incredibly extravagant, often outrageous, outfits.

To perform some task with as much energy, enthusiasm, and determination as possible. It's going to be tough to win today's game, but if we all show out, we can accomplish anything! Farlex Dictionary of Idioms

intransitive. To become visible, discernible, or apparent; to be revealed. Now somewhat rare. In early use also: to project, stick out.

A little later the flicker of their camp-fire showed out.

intransitive. Originally and chiefly U.S. regional (southern and south Midland). = to show off. OED

He should have trusted his Star Wars-style instinct and his eyes and ears on the three occasions his surveillance team has, in the parlance, 'showed out'—the times when he has spotted or 'got on to' the fact that he was being tracked and watched. Graham Johnson; Druglord

We couldn't park too close to the gates without showing out, which made identifying container numbers as they left the facility impossible. Harry Ferguson; Kilo 17

The rabbits, too, were showing out among the grass, scuttling about busily. Henry Kingsley; Ravenshoe

The two of us got on that dance floor and showed out. Our dance moves were off the chart, and people started clapping for us and moved off. Jeanette Tyson; Shhhhh...Don't Tell.....

"Mama, you need to whip that boy" He needs a good whippin'! You should have seen how he carried on and showed out and pestered me! Claude Eubanks; Bully in the Pulpit

Of course he didn't tell anyone, but he fumbled around at dinner and spilled food on his clothes and blubbered when asked anything. It was like he went into a stupor. Alex and Tom laughed at John and thought he was just showing out and left it at that. T. Burns and D. Burns; The Young Scots

"Nobody said anything about being undercover, I just don't feel the need to show out. I'm not all about trying to get someone's attention..." J.B.M. Patrick; Angelos Odyssey

  • I think you're confusing the relatively rare usage to show out = to show off Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 17:57
  • No, "show out: verb to behave ostentatiously" New Partridge Dictionary of Slang but that's just one meaning.
    – DjinTonic
    Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 18:00
  • Intransitive 'represent' is unusual. Commented Dec 6, 2021 at 19:00

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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