There’s no getting out of it: there is no rage in outrage

The last post dealt in part with the short and useful English word out, but even without that priming of the pump, almost all native English speakers who are asked about the origin of the word outrage will assume it’s a compound made up of out and rage. The semantics seem strongly to support that interpretation: an outrage is behavior that goes outside the norm of decency, and people who have been the victims of outrageous behavior can understandably be filled with rage. But as the title says, there’s no getting out of it: there is no rage in outrage, nor is there any out.

The Spanish cognate of outrage, ultraje, offers insight into the true origin of the word, which is based on the Latin ultrā that meant ‘beyond,’ so an outrage goes beyond the bounds of decent behavior. The reason there’s no trace of the original l in outrage is that English took the word intact from Old French, where Latin ultrā had evolved to outre, and -age was (and still is) a standard noun-forming suffix that’s cognate to Spanish -aje. English has also more recently borrowed French outré, which means ‘eccentric, bizarre, startlingly unconventional.’

Spanish and English both have compounds with ultra- in them, like ultramarino/ultramarine, ultravioleta/ultraviolet, ultramoderno/ultramodern, and ultramontano/ultramontane. The prefix seems to be more of a living one in English than in Spanish, as evidenced by compounds like ultra-chic, ultra-picky, ultra-sexy, ultra-stupid, ultra-gross. I searched online and didn’t find an example of anyone using ultra-outré, but it’s probably only a matter of time, and until then this post might turn up if anyone else does a search for that etymologically redundant phrase.

© 2015 Steven Schwartzman


9 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. navasolanature
    Jul 08, 2015 @ 05:44:56

    Interesting and definitely ultra palabras!


  2. shoreacres
    Jul 08, 2015 @ 20:59:27

    I can’t hear the word outraged without thinking of Houston Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who has to be the most consistently outraged person in the world. In fact, it’s so much her signature word that people all over Houston will say to one another, “I’m outraged! OUTRAGED, I tell you.” And then everyone dissolves into giggles and starts telling Queen Sheila stories.

    She certainly is the very essence of outré. Or, as we might say today, she’s completely “out there.”

    And we should give a nod to Ultra Violet, friend of Warhol and Dali. That was an outré crew if ever there was one.


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jul 08, 2015 @ 23:35:37

      I didn’t know “that people all over Houston will say to one another, ‘I’m outraged! OUTRAGED, I tell you.’” I’ve referred to that game as “I’ll bet I can be offended by more things than you can,” but I agree that outraged is a better word for that than offended. Maybe a proper counter-strategy is to claim to be outraged by X, Y, or Z before the other person can make a claim of outrage.


  3. shoreacres
    Jul 09, 2015 @ 07:07:12

    Among the people I know, at least, it’s all in good fun and a way of relieving frustration with the Congresswoman. Rep. Lee is the one who claims to be a freed slave, thinks there are two Vietnams (North and South), believes the Constitution is 400 years old, and wonders if the Mars Pathfinder was able to take a photo of the flag planted there by the astronauts. That’s a target-rich environment if ever I saw one.

    Apart from that, she’s a truly nasty person. She’s had the highest staff turnover rate in Congress for years, and has won the Washingtonian “meanest boss in Congress” award several times. I suspect she probably was outraged about that, too. 🙂


    • Steve Schwartzman
      Jul 09, 2015 @ 08:23:16

      In light of all the nonsensical things you’ve listed that she’s said, someone might ask why her constituents keep re-electing her, but I’m afraid I’ve been cynical for far too long to even wonder about such a thing. Let’s hope this Lee finds her Appomattox Courthouse soon. In the meantime, be thankful you’re not in her district.


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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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