Word Court

Hout of Detroit," he said. "Are they in ... Pontiac?" I asked. "No, no, they're out of Detroit." "Oh -- Flint?" I asked. "They're in Detroit," he finally said, emphasis on the preposition, as if I hadn't been listening. I, brows up: "Oh! They're actually IN Detroit! I thought they were OUT OF Detroit."

Ilustration by Bob Hambly Maybe I was unkind. Maybe he was using out of in the "from" sense: "conducting business out of a hotel room," "the QE2, out of Southampton," "a bat out of hell." But I suspect he was trying to sound less like a person with a widget supplier in Detroit and more like -- clarity?! Cool guys talk different, dude! -- a character out of Elmore Leonard.

Gerry L'Orange

Cool guys have been talking differently from others at least since Raymond Chandler's day. But I did find quite a few contemporary examples of this construction when I went looking for them, and most of those that weren't referring to shipping did seem to have something to prove. From Broadcasting & Cable magazine, for instance: "Studio executives say the show will be taped out of the Los Angeles Sports Arena and will feature 10 actors/warriors competing against three contestants." From The Washington Post: "At a public reception the other night, Michael Hinkle, 29 -- he now runs an art doll consulting firm out of Los Angeles -- fondly recalls his years of 'building a collection for Demi Moore.'"

That second example also suggests the rationale for out of -- where there is any sort of rationale beyond the one you suspect. Neither "consulting firm in Los Angeles" nor "consulting firm from Los Angeles" would convey as effectively as the published version that this is one art-doll consultant under whom grass does not grow: the guy is on the move. Much the same justification applies to saying that somebody or other is based somewhere, as opposed to just living somewhere, the way most of us do.

Ilustration by Bob Hambly Asince. I felt that the word could be used correctly in the following sentence: "Since the water is green, you probably have an algae problem." He maintained that because was more correct here, because (since?) it more correctly demonstrated cause and effect. Since, he said, denotes the passage of time: "The water has become green since the early spring." I have seen both used and believe that since in the other sense is also correct, and is more widely used than because. Most people I polled thought since sounded better. I would like to know your opinion.

Paul J. Forbes

The conjunction since can mean both "because" and "from that point onward," so when it appears at the beginning of a sentence, it can sometimes leave listeners or readers groping to discover which meaning is intended: "Since the water turned clear, we have stopped worrying about it." There's less chance for ambiguity in the middle of a sentence, after some clues about where the thought is heading have been strewn about.

One important clue is, usually, the tenses of verbs in the sentence -- though the example I just gave you contains the one truly ambiguous possibility. A clause introduced by since in its time-related sense is supposed to contain a past-tense verb (such as turned, above), and the main clause of the sentence should be in the present perfect (have stopped). A sentence with a causal since can employ such verbs as well. However, it rarely does. Your "Since the water is green" sentence certainly doesn't follow the temporal pattern. And its since clause is short and hard to get lost in. I think the sentence is fine.

Ilustration by Bob Hambly Dmale and female offensive when used to describe such things as electrical connectors? A dongle, for example, looks like the plug at the end of a printer cable, but has no cable attached to it; it fits into the printer port on the back of a PC. One end of it is conventionally referred to as male, and the other end as female. As a technical writer, I discussed these terms with a co-worker, because we were about to include them in a manual. Although these are industry-standard terms, she found them offensive. I was surprised at her response, so I took a quick survey. Other women found them "possibly offensive." No men objected. We ultimately took out the references. Did we just cave in to political correctness?

Colin Barnett

Taking the questions at the beginning and the end of your letter in order, no and yes.

Barbara Wallraff is a senior editor of The Atlantic Monthly magazine.

Illustrations by Bob Hambly.

The Atlantic Monthly; November 1999; Word Court - 99.11; Volume 284, No. 5; page 128.