Out with “outage”

So says John Rentoul, adding it to his ever-expanding “banned list”:

The Committee has been in emergency session. Added: “To sandbag” (protect property with sandbags) & “power outages” (cuts) #BannedList

Now outage is a word with some history. Let’s go to the OED:

1. U.S. The amount of something lost during transportation; (also in early use) a charge compensating for this; (now usually) the loss of liquid by evaporation or leakage. Also: the amount by which a container falls short of being full. Cf. ullage n.

2. orig. and chiefly U.S. A period or state in which an apparatus or system (esp. an electrical one) is not operating; power failure; a power cut.


As the son and grandson of publicans (and, doubtless, sinners), I know ullage was significant in the days when brewers took back and rebated waste, dregs, or ullage, in the bottoms of barrels.

It’s also a venerable word, going back to the Thirteenth Century, when it was borrowed from Old French ouillage. Thus it confirms my understanding of class division in English feudalism: cows, pigs, sheep, chickens and deer had good English names as long as they were on their legs and cared for by the natives; but once they arrived in the lord’s kitchens they transformed into Norman French beef, pork, mutton, capon and venison.

The first of those two OED definitions goes back to the mid-Nineteenth Century. The second, surprisingly, has this first citation:

1900   Elyria (Ohio) Republican 21 June 1/3   By resolution the night police were instructed to report on outages of electric lights.

9780521449717Then we can add a third definition, revealed by John and Adele Algeo in Fifty Years among the New Words, where it means “naming names”, as in the sense of outing someone “from the closet”. The Algeos date this from a 1990 appearance in Advocate.

The OED does not seem to know of outage in that sense, but is happy to have outing, meaning 8 of the word, from the same year:

orig. U.S. The disclosure of the undeclared homosexuality of a prominent public figure, originally as a tactical move by gay-rights activists

1990 Time 29 Jan. 67/1   Discussion about who is ‘in the closet’ has generally been held to a discreet murmur… That consensus is fast breaking down with the spread of a phenomenon known as ‘outing’.

The “word of the year” thing goes back to 2003 with Merriam-Webster, and 2004 with the OED. Doubtless outing would have been a runner for 1990.


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Filed under Beer, History, Oxford English Dictionary, reading

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