A world without outwith
For my sins, I’ve been an author of sorts for most of my working life. Not a fiction or story writing author (so the world is spared the horror of at least one further Rowling), but a technical author, doomed to work through facts and figures, opinions and comments, and massage them into some sort of simplified imitation of the original that technophobes could grasp, and sign a purchase order for.
Most of this was completed without the benefit of a spell-checker, but not without a word-processor. The first arrived when I had to go and buy a WP program for myself, to run on a twin floppy PC the company acquired to run some automated laser testing equipment. This occupied it for a whole 5 minutes per day, and yours truly could see that the new ‘toy’ had a lot more potential than as the door-stop it became when packed away.
Back to the present-day, and I was writing up some notes that had to refer to military installations, and the buildings and facilities that lay both inside, and outside, its perimeter. As this proceeded, I found there were numerous occasions where I referred to subjects outwith the perimeter, and became increasingly irritated as the spell-checker kep flagging outwith as a misspelt, (or is that misspelled, mis-spelt or mis-spelled) word.
I was intrigued, as the basic dictionary informed me that outwith wasn’t a word. Having used it for years, and shared it with colleagues without comment or criticism, I decided it was time to do a little hunting, and the result was a bit of a surprise.
Having come to use the word as part of reports and presentations that were largely prepared for and together with colleagues who were very English, and relished their occasional visits north of the border, I would have expected the word to be English, as we generally used it to refer to subject items we were not able to consider in our reports or analyses – typically we would drop in a standard “Outwith the scope of this report…” when we needed to refer something which others may have considered relevant, but we did not, but still needed to show we had considered its existence.
Reading up on the background of outwith, it came as no great surprise to find that it arose from the original word without, which today means something like ‘not having’, but was originally used to describe something that was ‘outside’, which compares with within, which refers to something ‘inside’. Sometimes there are some very silly changes in language use over time – this certainly looks like one of them.
My old friend outwith, it seems, is simply a variation on the original ‘without’, but, more importantly, was the version favoured by the Scots, which may explain my affinity to the word.
While the word outwith was reported to have fallen out of favour, and general use, it was of interest to note that some further searching revealed that far from being restricted to Scotland, use of outwith outwith Scotland has been noted to be increasing, and the word may be making a wider comeback.
Perhaps my insistence on using it for years played a small part. After all, most of the reports and presentations I made using it went all the way down to London for discussion by my peers.
In any event, I now know I can ignore any ill-informed spell-checker that throws a red line under any use of outwith I care to make in future, and that I can safely add it to my own list of approved words, and perhaps spread it around a bit more as well.