Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Er, "lucked out"?

I believe it was George Bernard Shaw who said England and America are two countries "separated by a common language". And how! As Liane detailed in a previous Novel Spaces post, it's not just a question of "o" versus "ou" or "ward" versus "wards". The differences in the usage of the language itself go much deeper than trivial spelling changes, which is why I'm always relieved and ecstatic to hear that a US-based publisher is not averse to accepting my UK English manuscript and, what's more, is happy to publish it in UK English. (So rare, so precious!)

Most of the time I just take note of the dissonance between the UK English and US English terms and move on, but I have to admit being stumped by a recently popular term.

Lucked out.

I believe this is supposed to be a good thing. I've been told, for example, that I "lucked out" on my book covers. I had to ask, but it appears to mean that I've had a lot of luck with my book covers. (And it's true, I have.) My question is, though, how can you reach that conclusion from that term?

Take similar phrases. "He bled out on the sidewalk." Good? I don't think so. "She flaked out in the exam." Good? Nah-uh. So how come "lucked out" is seen as something positive?

Okay, "luck" is nice. "Lucked"? I think you're starting to hit slippery ground here. Think of other words that end in "ed" (and perhaps even rhyme with "luck"). Like, sucked. (What's the matter, were you thinking of something else?) No matter which way you cut it, "sucked" isn't such a hip and groovy word. (I'll just pause for an undergraduate joke -- Gravity is a myth! The Earth sucks! -- and move on.)

Now add "out". Where is "out" a positive term? Who can show me that? You strike out. You're "on the outside". You're "out of the loop". You're "out there", "out of your mind", "out of options". Okay, maybe "break out" (the "break-out novel"! I wish!)? "Pay out"? Though, in both situations, it depends on which side of the fence you are on as to whether it's a positive or not.

Can you tell I've spent many neural cycles on this one? Lucked out? Even as a series of sounds, it doesn't sound very...appetising. "You really lucked out!" Try it out aloud now. See what I mean?

I'm sorry, I just can't see it. Why is this the current favourite over a much more serviceable, imo, "got lucky"? "You sure got lucky with your covers, Kaz!" Anybody care to explain?


Liane Spicer said...

I'd like to see that explanation myself; always thought 'lucked out' meant something along the lines of 'ran out of luck'. O_O

As I used to tell my students, you just can't apply logic to the English language(s).

Maria Zannini said...

Well, you're asking a non-native speaker here. LOL.

I've learned to accept the uniqueness of American English and move on. I gave up trying to diagnose it years ago. It hurt my brain. :o)

writtenwyrdd said...

Maybe it will help if you look at the use of out this way: 'out' modifies the word/phrase it's attached to, and essentially indicates maximization/fullness. Thus "maxed out" for too full to be used any more, e.g. 'your credit card is maxed out'; and "lucked out," which means you have maximum luck in a particular circumstance.

KeVin K. said...

ww got it.

When I taught English as a second language, I advised my students to approach English as a patois and accept that pronunciation and grammar depended on language of origin. (Who was it who wrote that English mugs other languages and goes through their pockets looking for words and grammar?) This reduced their stress and frustration considerably.

(I also advised them not to adopt the Southern English they heard around them daily. Folks hear Southern grammar and accent, they drop your IQ 20 points.)

Jewel Amethyst said...

lol Kaz and KeVin. As someone who grew up using UK English but went to college in the US, I've given up worrying about the phrases and the language and I've just accepted it.

Just remember, the spoken word is dynamic and changes constantly. In the future "Lucked out" may have a totally different meaning.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it's because I'm a Brit, but I understand "lucked out" to mean "out of luck", i.e. a negative statement. On the other hand, if your "luck is in" (for example at the casino) then it's a positive thing.

I've also noticed that Americans fill out applications forms, whereas the British fill in forms.

Kaz Augustin said...

@writtenwyrdd: Thanks for that! But it still requires some conscious track-switching, I'm sorry to say. I think I shall have to get used to the idea that this term will always initially shock and baffle me before your logic hint kicks in.

@Liane & @Captain Black: Riiiigghhttt. I'm totally with you on this one! Also, CB, "tabling" something by Americans means putting it on the back-burner for next time; for the British, it means bringing it forward for discussion.

PS I still really hate "lucked out"!

Kaz Augustin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Maria Zannini said...


Ref: (I also advised them not to adopt the Southern English they heard around them daily. Folks hear Southern grammar and accent, they drop your IQ 20 points.)

I seriously doubt that is the case any more, given the increased mobility of a global community.

I grew up in Chicago and thought the same thing once. Then I moved to Texas, and discovered how arrogant that assessment was.

Just because my ear couldn't process a different dialect, I immediately made the assumption they weren't as smart as me.

My supposition was the only part of that equation that failed the IQ test.