Monday, June 30, 2008

Looking out after someone

From the fertile linguistic field of sitcoms comes another expression that struck my ear as odd: "They're just looking out after you" (from an episode of Friends). A quick check of Google turns up the following results:

  • "look after": 15,500,000
  • "look out after": 282,000 (11 out of the first 30 results are in the sense of "look after", or 37%)
  • "looking after": 7,620,000
  • "looking out after": 157,000 (25 out of the first 30 results are in the sense of "looking after", or 83%)

So what does this mean? It definitely means the line I heard was not an isolated occurrence or malapropism. Clearly the writers or the actor intended that phrase. What puzzles me more than the phrase itself is the large discrepancy between the results using "look" and "looking". However, I'm guessing the discrepancy is not actually that high, but rather it's easier to find results of "...look-out, after" and "...look out, after" than it is to find the corresponding phrases with the progressive form. Still, to me "looking out after" sounds decidedly weird. Perhaps it's a mixture of "look out for" and "look after". As much as a quick search of Shakespeare can tell us, the expression seems to be new rather than original, since "look after" turns up 6 hits in Shakespeare, whereas "look out after" returns none.

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