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I Was rather surprised to see the word outrage in large headline- type on the front page of the Daily Telegraph last week. "Outrage as Irish free IRA suspect" it said, explaining how the news had infuriated Unionist MPs. I would have thought this was more a tabloid word. Popular newspapers use it a lot; it is part of that highly formal, almost ritual language that gives them so much of their charm. There was an example in the Daily Mail on the same morning as the Telegraph's front page story, but it was at the bottom of page 19 ("Outrage at `secret EU plan' to control taxes"), for outrage in such papers is not nearly so serious a matter as it is in the broadsheets, being the proper tabloid word for those who are annoyed, or perhaps more than a little upset about something: a notch, but only a notch, up from fury.

Yet its origins have nothing to do with rage. It didn't split that way - the "r" belonged to its first half, not its second, and the age part of it was only a suffix, as in words like advantage. The Latin ultra meant "beyond", which in French became outre, so outr-age was a state of being beyond reason, or over the top. Since people who have lost control of themselves can indeed be said to rage, one can see how this little misunderstanding arose. But again anger didn't come into it much, at least at first. Violence, physical or otherwise, was what it was chiefly about. A journalist who writes of a terrorist bomb outrage is using the word as originally intended.

No doubt it was once pronounced "owtridge" on the analogy of voyage, advantage and the rest. The verb, meaning to do violence to life, limb, property or feelings, seems usually to have had the accent on "rage", if we are to go by the poets, who have tended to rhyme it with such words as sage and cage.

The 1991 OED insists that outraged has the accent on the first syllable, though it sounds much more heartfelt with the accent on the second, as I have often heard it used. The OED's 1991 definition was "Subjected to outrage, gross violence, or indignity; violated" - nothing, you may note, about anger here. The Shorter Oxford put things right two years later; it dated the definition "arouse fierce anger or indignation in" from the early 20th century.

Meanwhile the more we see it in newspapers the less fierce it gets.

Nicholas Bagnall