According to MW "catch me out" means:

caught out; catching out; catches out

transitive verb
1 : to detect in error or wrongdoing

caught him out committing perjury

2 : to take unawares or by surprise

As a native speaker in Chicagoland, I've never heard this. Where is this sort of idiom common? I heard it originally from someone who might be Brit. Is this used in other parts of the US? Across the pond? Down under or among Kiwis? Canucks? Is it used in the Midwest and I just haven't heard it? Anyone know of any resources that would confirm that this is common US vernacular and not just a dialect some dictionary writer decided to include out of his fondness of the King's English?

I'm looking for evidence or citations that characterizes the sorts of language communities that use this English idiom, and am not seeking to conduct a survey, as per Stuart F's objection (though given my lack of explicit caveatation, I can see why he might object). Please, whatever you do, don't characterize your personal English Language and Usage.

  • Yes, sure, to catch somebody out. Perfectly good Americanese.
    – Lambie
    Jun 2, 2023 at 16:06
  • Not ever heard by me in California-land. Jun 2, 2023 at 16:41
  • ....familiar to me, a native New Yorker expat who reads a lot of British authors. Jun 2, 2023 at 16:50
  • It has a cricket feel to it, with a batsman caught before getting to the wicket. In America, one of the ways for a batter to get out is to have the batted ball caught. And base runners can be "caught out" when they get too far away from their safe bases ("taking a leadoff"), but there the out means 'away from base' rather than "out" in the game sense. I believe there are probly more ways for sports analogs to work with this idiom. Jun 2, 2023 at 17:21
  • I've never heard it in the US Midwest.
    – Hot Licks
    Jun 2, 2023 at 17:28

1 Answer 1


The transitive multi word verb catch someone out has several different senses:

  • catch someone out [show / discover wrongdoing] [Collins labels this sense 'mainly British'; M-W doesn't add these caveats]

to show that someone is doing wrong[, expose a fault in someone]:

I suspected he wasn't telling me the truth, and one day I caught him out when I found some letters he'd written.

  • catch someone out [trick; entrap] [Collins labels this sense 'mainly British' and 'informal]']

to trick someone into making a mistake [AHD of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs adds no caveat here]:

The examiner will try to catch you out, so stay calm and think carefully before you speak.

  • catch someone out [cause difficulty] [M-W adds no caveat here either]

to put someone in a difficult situation:

A lot of people were caught out by the sudden change in the weather.

[Cambridge Dictionary; amended slightly]

Perhaps Collins' 'mainly British' caveats are warranted, but the juries seem decidedly non-consensual. AHD and M-W tend to reflect US usage. As a Brit, I'm familiar with all the above senses, involving/not involving entrapment/a curve ball (ie intent to expose wrongdoing or lack of comprehension/proficiency); observer/examiner (assessor) involved or not.

  • 1
    I think our OP is suffering from recency fallacy. Aw shucks...I just caught him out. BTW +1 Jun 2, 2023 at 17:27
  • Thanks. My preference for the vernacular on the three would be "catch someone in the act", "trip them up", and maybe "catch them off guard" which isn't strictly synonymous with "causing difficulty". Thanks for taking the time to respond.
    – J D
    Jun 2, 2023 at 17:55
  • @JD Your Q was good, and was interesting to many users. Jun 2, 2023 at 18:04

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