When "taking out" means "putting in"

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From Hyman R.:

I managed to confuse my (nearly twelve) son last night. We were talking politics, and I was explaining to him that there were Jewish Republicans who were going to be taking out ads in the Jewish Week newspaper to try to convince Jews to vote against Obama. He said that he didn't understand why they would do that, and I tried to explain, and we went round and round for a bit until I realized that he didn't know that "take out an ad" is the same thing as "put in an ad"! He thought that they were removing such ads, and so was justifiably confused.

In that sense of "take out", you can also take out an insurance policy; what else? And how did this sense get started?


  1. Bruce Rusk said,

    March 7, 2012 @ 3:53 pm

    Perhaps it's from legal usage: in law, one can take out an action, an execution, a summons, an appeal, etc.

  2. Aaron Toivo said,

    March 7, 2012 @ 3:55 pm

    You can also take out a loan.

    I would speculate that it is much the same sense of "take out" employed in e.g. "what I take out of this conversation is that …", that is, to take out = to get. And of course loans, insurance policies, and newspaper ads are things one can be said to get, in terms of a service received.

  3. rootlesscosmo said,

    March 7, 2012 @ 4:04 pm

    "Take out a contract" in the killer-for-hire sense, alternatively "put out a contract." But I have no idea about the origin of this usage.

  4. Catherine said,

    March 7, 2012 @ 4:11 pm

    You can take out a subscription.

  5. naddy said,

    March 7, 2012 @ 4:15 pm

    I recently noticed that UFC fighters make their entrance wearing a walkout shirt while their walk-in music is playing.

  6. Dan said,

    March 7, 2012 @ 4:18 pm

    Traditionally, the sexual slur "putting out" had a lot to do with taking in.

  7. Mr Fnortner said,

    March 7, 2012 @ 4:26 pm

    I see take out as "acquire" here. But be careful of a. killing or disabling someone, b. escorting a date, or c. borrowing a book while you are doing it.

  8. Carl said,

    March 7, 2012 @ 4:31 pm

    Take a shower, take a drink, take a crap, take a vacation…

    "Take" is a really weak verb. The only word that brings less meaning with it is "do." It's not that surprising that some of the meanings of take compounds contradict the core meaning of grasping and possessing. Still, more etymology is always better.

  9. Dan T. said,

    March 7, 2012 @ 5:11 pm

    You can take a crap or give a crap.

  10. RodMcGuire said,

    March 7, 2012 @ 5:15 pm

    I think the sense of "out" here means mostly "going into the social sphere" with practically no information on the location "in" which the movement started – maybe you could say the movement is from intention to actuality.

  11. Eric P Smith said,

    March 7, 2012 @ 5:40 pm

    Yes, I’m sure the sense got started from legal usage. To take out in this sense means to obtain: or, as Mr Fnortner says, to acquire. One obtains a loan, a contract, a subscription etc.

    The Jewish Republicans are putting in ads. They are taking out contracts for ads. However common the phrase "taking out ads" may have become, it is essentially an abbreviation for "taking out contracts for ads", and is therefore an unnecessarily roundabout and confusing way of saying "putting in ads" if that is all you mean. I’m with the boy.

  12. Jangari said,

    March 7, 2012 @ 6:05 pm

    Carl, the well-described 'take-a-verb' construction (which has a related construction in Australia, the 'have-a-verb') is quite different to the 'take something out' construction, and as others have noted, there are a couple of different constructions here as well.

    The first is the one referred to in the post, where 'take out' is to purchase some kind of service, an ad, an insurance policy, and so on. This is definitely not in my dialect and I can't speak to it at all.

    Then there's the regular compositional 'take something/someone out' which has two meanings on the basis of the polysemy of 'out': the first is 'remove', i.e., get rid of, kill; the second is 'out' as in 'outside' or something like that, meaning 'go on a date with'. On second thoughts this is probably noncompositional as well and probably forms a construction…

    As for the take-a-verb and have-a-verb, there are dialectal differences between them: have-a-verb encodes nontelicity; the event is undertaken with no especial endpoint, as in 'I'll have a read', i.e. 'my eyes will scan it but I'll probably give up and put it down'. I don't think you can do this with take-a-verb.

  13. Jerry Friedman said,

    March 7, 2012 @ 6:22 pm

    In keeping with what others have said about "take out" meaning "obtain", the OED has under take out: "7. trans. To apply for and obtain (a licence, patent, summons, or other official document) in due form from the proper authority." The first citation is from 1673 "The vacating their charter, & forcing them to take out a new one."

  14. SlideSF said,

    March 7, 2012 @ 7:40 pm

    My favorite phrase which has two opposite meanings comes from my childhood living by a lake. In the summertime we would hang out at the beach. When it got too hot, we would "go in", as in go into the water. But when one person got tired of swimming, the inevitable query was, "Hey, you wanna go in?" I guess because at that point we were out in the water.

  15. Francis Deblauwe said,

    March 7, 2012 @ 8:01 pm

    Reminds me of the British/American duo "to fill in"/"to fill out" a form

  16. John said,

    March 7, 2012 @ 8:58 pm

    A British female friend was always jarring my sensibilities when she'd say she needed to 'have a pee.' 'Take a piss' is utterly standard for me, if on the vulgar end of the scale, but 'having a pee' would parse better as 'have to take a pee' in my vocabulary. A full bladder suggests that one already has the pee and the need was actually to void it.

  17. neminem said,

    March 7, 2012 @ 9:10 pm

    My first thought was, likewise, taking out a contract (I watch too much spy fiction, I guess). My second thought was my favorite story (possibly apocryphal) about verbs with opposite meanings, in this case on opposite sides of the pond: that at one point in WW2, British and American military leaders got in something of an argument – the British wanted a matter tabled (brought to the front of the list) immediately, as it was important, while the Americans didn't think it should be tabled (sent to the bottom of the list) at -all-. Granted, slightly different, in that taking out an ad can mean either thing on either side of the Atlantic.

  18. chh said,

    March 7, 2012 @ 9:24 pm

    I don't speak French even a little, but I do know that the verb 'retire' is used for these same senses of 'take out', while it usually means to remove/withdraw. Maybe someone who has some more background could address the question of whether 'take out' in expressions like 'take out an ad' is a calque from French.

    That still leaves the question of why 'retire' is used in that language, but it might be worth looking at how/when it took on the sense discussed here instead of only looking for a logical explanation for how 'take out' emerged for these uses in English.

  19. Gene Callahan said,

    March 8, 2012 @ 12:23 am

    "You can also take out a loan."

    But that is taking out like in removing: you take out the money from the bank!

  20. briggslaw said,

    March 8, 2012 @ 1:46 am

    I never quite figured out why in the UK people take decisions whereas in the US they make them.

  21. Eric P Smith said,

    March 8, 2012 @ 5:19 am

    @Gene Callahan: When you “take out a loan”, I don’t think that “take out” has the sense of taking out the money. You are “taking out a contract for a loan,” and “take out” has the usual legal meaning of obtaining a service. The loan is not (strictly) the money: it is the temporary provision of the money.

    In commerce there is a separate technical term for taking out the money: it is “drawing down” the loan.

  22. Laura said,

    March 8, 2012 @ 5:59 am

    @briggslaw: I don't think it's entirely a UK/US thing (if at all) – we certainly both take decisions and make them in the UK (personally, I almost always make them. Or don't make them, as I'm very indecisive). There is some very subtle semantic distinction, but I'm blowed if I know what it is. Maybe taking a decision sounds more like a formal thing that matters to policy or has consequences or whatever, but making a decision is any old everyday decision?

  23. Rick Sprague said,

    March 8, 2012 @ 7:08 am

    I wouldn't know where to begin looking for how it developed, but one thing I'd look for is undertake with completive out, as in 'fill out' or 'stamp out'. 'Undertake out' just feels too prepositionally heavy, and I'd be inclined to want to drop one of them.

  24. Richard Angelillo said,

    March 8, 2012 @ 9:25 am

    I have observed non-native english speakers being confused when hearing the idiom, "luck out," taking the meaning more concretely as a stroke of bad luck.

  25. Joe1959 said,

    March 8, 2012 @ 10:58 am

    @Richard Angelillo

    "Lucking out" and the transatlantic divide was discussed here.

  26. Brett said,

    March 8, 2012 @ 2:20 pm

    @Laura: It seems to be the case the decisions can be "taken" or "made" in the UK. However, only the latter usage appears to exist in the USA.

  27. Chandra said,

    March 8, 2012 @ 2:53 pm

    @chh – To take out (or put in) an ad in the paper in French would be "publier / poster / passer une annonce dans le journal", rather than "retirer".

    A bit off-topic, but the title of this post made me think of a somewhat vague train of thought I've been following lately, about how we construct phrases such as "I was taking my shoes on and off" – phrases that are quite common and normal, but have become jarring to me because, of course, we don't ever "take shoes on", we put them on. So how does one verb get chosen over the other? I have been trying to make mental note of when I hear people use these types of phrases to see if there's any pattern.

  28. Chandra said,

    March 8, 2012 @ 2:55 pm

    Oops. Forgot to close the bracket after "put". I didn't mean to make it sound like that last sentence was so terribly significant that it warranted being put in italics.

  29. Mr Punch said,

    March 8, 2012 @ 3:59 pm

    From the American side, I agree with Laura on take/make a decision. For me, "make" is usual, but "take" is not unknown, and it does suggest formality (as Laura says); I think it also suggests that facing the decision was elective rather than forced.

  30. D.O. said,

    March 8, 2012 @ 4:07 pm

    I conjecture that take out an ad is shortened form of take out ad space. Its well past breakfast time, so no kind of even minimal research is proffered.

  31. Michael said,

    March 8, 2012 @ 4:16 pm

    This is a bit like cutting a tree down and then cutting it up.

  32. chh said,

    March 8, 2012 @ 9:34 pm


    Indeed :( The google hits I was finding were actually cases of entities removing ads from publication… This makes a good case for knowing what you're talking about before you say it.

    What brought me in that direction was actually looking at 'prendre'. Maybe that shows up in the right places and still has a general 'take' meaning? I'm not sure it's as compelling an argument for a French->English calque explanation…

  33. briggslaw said,

    March 9, 2012 @ 1:15 am

    When I hear (or see) 'take a decision' my next thought is usually 'where are they taking it to?'

  34. Thomas Thurman said,

    March 9, 2012 @ 4:09 am

    John: I suspect the reason we don't say "take a piss" so much in the UK is that it sounds too close to "take the piss", i.e. to mock something.

  35. Mudge said,

    March 9, 2012 @ 11:17 am

    When an alarm "goes off", does it begin ringing, or stop ringing?

    One of my favorites.

  36. Chandra said,

    March 9, 2012 @ 12:20 pm

    @chh – There are a few hits for "prendre une annonce dans le journal", but it doesn't seem very common, so it isn't likely to have influenced the English phrase, imo.

  37. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    March 9, 2012 @ 3:14 pm


    Instead of "have a read," I would "take a look" at something to scan it and then put it down. I also use "take a look" for shopping and other tasks, such as asking a repairman to "take a look" at a balky trunk lock. I'm in the northeastern U.S.

  38. Glenn Bingham said,

    March 9, 2012 @ 11:48 pm

    @Francis Deblauwe

    Re: Reminds me of the British/American duo "to fill in"/"to fill out" a form

    This runs into theta-role considerations:
    Fill in the form.
    Fill out the form.
    Fill in your name.
    *Fill out your name.

    where the first two are essentially synonymous (US).

  39. David Bird said,

    March 10, 2012 @ 9:46 am

    My Italo-Brazilian friend says she will fill up the form. This seems unambiguous and unidirectional, except that filling down the form makes sense too.

  40. Bloix said,

    March 11, 2012 @ 6:25 pm

    Verb preposition combinations that use the more generic verbs, like get, make, give, take, put, etc. have almost no inherent meaning at all – their meanings are almost entirely a matter of convention and they shift easily:
    get in, get out, get over, get past, get around, get by, get into, etc., etc.

  41. Vinay said,

    March 13, 2012 @ 4:43 pm

    A lot of Indians would simply do away with the preposition. "Fill the form" would work just fine for them. Come to think of it, leaving out the preposition modifier is generally very common in Indian English.

  42. Robert said,

    March 30, 2012 @ 2:55 pm

    To me it seems similar to "pull a permit" which always confused me

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