Beyond within

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Matt Wilstein, "Kathy Griffin Calls CNN’s Jeff Zucker a ‘Pussy’ for Caving to Trump", Daily Beast 7/2/2019 [emphasis added]:

Griffin tells ‘The Last Laugh’ podcast that the CNN president tried to limit her to one Trump joke per hour during 2016’s New Year’s Eve special before firing her the next year. […]

They had such a good relationship at one point that Zucker even hired Griffin to roast him at an event where he was receiving an award. But as soon as President Trump tweeted that she should be “ashamed of herself” for posing with his mock-severed head, Zucker kicked her to the curb.

“I guess the part that sort of stuns me to this day is, number one, that photo, whether you like it or not, was absolutely beyond within the parameters of the First Amendment,” Griffin says. “So people that think I broke the law are misinformed. Jeff knows that.”

“And I know this is going to sound silly, but I kind of think Jeff owes me an apology,” she continues. “Seriously, I didn’t do anything wrong.”

Maybe beyond has turned into a simple intensifier here, totally abandoning its origins as a spatial metaphor, so that "absolutely beyond within X" just means something like "absolutely definitely 110% within X". Or maybe the spatial metaphor is being interpreted from a perspective outside the metaphorical first-amendment circle, as if "beyond within the city limits" meant "well past the boundary required to be considered within the city" — even though "beyond the limits" would normally mean "outside the limits" rather than inside them.

I'm far enough behind within the language-change curve on this one that my first reaction was to try to make the second option work. But I'm pretty sure that this is just a logical continuation of the colloquial bleaching of beyond into  intensifier-land, where the meaning of "beyond X" is something like "more X than the things that are usually called X":

[link] The Reason Taylor Swift Doesn’t Own Her Own Music Is Beyond Complicated
[link] Griping about ‘wife guys’ is beyond insane
[link] “His heart is beyond big”: Broncos’ Chris Harris gives back to hometown with annual camp

That interpretation also works for the "beyond within" example, except that the residual spatial metaphors of the two prepositions kind of conflict with each other.

[h/t Michael Glazer]


  1. cameron said,

    July 4, 2019 @ 6:41 pm

    I think it was beyond within with room to spare.

  2. Bob Ladd said,

    July 5, 2019 @ 2:03 am

    @MYL: FWIW, I went through exactly the same chain of ideas about how this might be interpreted as you did. I'm presumably also in about the same place as you are with respect to the language-change curve.

  3. J.W. Brewer said,

    July 5, 2019 @ 7:06 am

    I'd like to see a few more instances of the "beyond within" combo confirming its idiomaticity before abandoning the hypothesis that Ms. Griffin's poor monkey brain stumbled into something akin to misnegation.

  4. Barry Solow said,

    July 5, 2019 @ 7:58 am

    I read it with (air?) quotes:

    'that photo, whether you like it or not, was absolutely beyond "within the parameters of the First Amendment"'

    If Griffin, rightly or wrongly, regards "within the parameters of the First Amendment" as a formulaic term of art among Constitututional lawyers, which she is citing (and, therefore, not formulating on the spot), then the degree to which she is using "beyond" spatially might depend on the degree to which she regards the formula as fixed (and its spatiality dead)

    'beyond "a clear and present danger"' has, to me, less metaphorical spatial resonance than 'beyond "the junkyard of the mind"'.

    Because psycho-sociolinguistic historical semantics.

  5. Theophylact said,

    July 5, 2019 @ 8:06 am

    Makes me think of "gone Dagenham", with the understanding of "three stops beyond Barking".

  6. Andy Averill said,

    July 5, 2019 @ 8:07 am

    I think it all started with Bed, Bath, and Beyond. What’s beyond the bath?

  7. Sili said,

    July 5, 2019 @ 11:52 am

    Can't it just be a mistake? Perhaps her first thought was to use a construction calling for "beyond" and then changing her mind mid-sentence in favour of "within the first amendment."

  8. Crystal said,

    July 5, 2019 @ 1:18 pm

    The intensifier reading was natural enough to me that I read it that way without noticing anything particularly interesting about it.

  9. Michael Watts said,

    July 5, 2019 @ 3:02 pm

    I think it all started with Bed, Bath, and Beyond. What's beyond the bath?

    The rest of what the store sells. They've got stock for the bed(room), the bath(room), and other places. The sense there is pretty clearly the original spatial one.

    Much like "to infinity, and beyond".

  10. Andrew Usher said,

    July 6, 2019 @ 10:17 pm

    It is clearly an error. I don't see that as arguable. The speaker herself, if she is a person that would ever admit to such an error, would do so if called to it.

    Obviously she started with something like 'beyond acceptable' (already dubious because it reverses the normal meaning of 'beyond') and then in midstream wanted to switch to something more specific.

    The argument itself is silly: OK, she did not break the law, but how can one equate that to 'not doing anything wrong'? There are (rightly) plently of things wrong but not illegal, and there are (far too many) things illegal but not wrong. I can't speak as to whether she should have lost her position, not being in possession of all the facts. But that argument is 'beyond lame'.

    Now that I'm thinking about it, the idiomatic use of 'beyond' is pretty complicated and not something I would want to try to summarise without research. But that doesn't stop our being able to recognise non-idiomatic uses!

    k_over_hbarc at

  11. Seth F said,

    July 7, 2019 @ 1:20 pm

    Along the lines of what Sili suggested, could this have been a simple error where she meant to say "beyond DOUBT" and rushed past the second word there? The following sentence would make much sense:

    "… that photo, whether you like it or not, was absolutely, beyond DOUBT, within the parameters of the First Amendment, …"

    If she was agitated, I could easily see her having the "within …" clause coming to mind just as she started to speak the "beyond …", and her switching right then.

  12. Abe said,

    July 7, 2019 @ 2:05 pm

    Kind of related?
    Origin, "The Beyond Within".

    [(myl) The word (sub-)strings are the same, but the structural and functional relationships are different. The song title treats "beyond" as a noun, with a following modifier "within", i.e. "the Beyond that is Within". In the case under discussion, "beyond" is functioning as a preceding quasi-adverbial modifier of the prepositional phrase starting with "within".]

  13. Ray said,

    July 7, 2019 @ 5:19 pm

    it would help to have an audio clip of her actually saying this sentence. then we could hear if there's any pauses, shifts, or tonal whatevers that could decipher what she's saying in a conversation (printed transcripts only do so much!). I went to the podcast but couldn't locate where she says "absolutely beyond within" (in an over-an-hour convo)…

  14. Andrew Usher said,

    July 7, 2019 @ 11:21 pm

    Certainly – I also was thinking that hearing the original intonation might answer the question of why it was said that way. It's hardly worth trying to decide without it.

    But again more evidence than this is needed to speculate that this shows a true language change and not just a verbal stumble.

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