Jane Austen’s ‘Outside of Enough’

Anyone who reads Georgette Heyer or other Regency-era historical fiction is surely familiar with the phrase “outside of enough” – one of those “cant” phrases that is self-explanatory, doesn’t need a lexicon or such to figure out its meaning.  It is a great turn of words, isn’t it? and so much more effective that “that’s enough” or “enough is enough” or “I’ve had enough” or “more than enough”, or “this is too much” or “enough already”!

But where did it come from? When was it first used? I don’t currently have access to the OED and it does not show up in the phrase reference sources I have or in online sources. Joanna Waugh on her website says it came into use around 1887.  It now seems overly used – certainly in every historical romance novel, but also in political writings, general conversation [just ‘google’ it!].  I am reminded of the phrase “gone missing”- a term I first heard in England years ago and needed to have it explained to me! – I later heard it on Canadian news programs, but now I hear it everywhere, read it in the newspapers, definitely a British turn of phrase adopted here in the US.

But back to “outside of enough” – I have assumed this was a term that Heyer perhaps had made up – she did do that with some of her Regency cant phrases so prevalent in her dialogue.   So I was quite surprised and delighted to discover this dialogue between Lucy Steele and Elinor in a recent re-read of Sense and Sensibility:

[Lucy Steele]  : “And what a charming little family they have! I never saw such fine children in my life. I declare I quite doat upon them already, and indeed I am always distractedly fond of children.”

   “I should guess so,” said Elinor with a smile, “from what I have witnessed this morning.”

   “I have a notion,” said Lucy, “you think the little Middletons rather too much indulged; perhaps they may be the outside of enough; but it is so natural in Lady Middleton; and for my part, I love to see children full of life and spirits; I cannot bear them if they are tame and quiet.”

    “I confess,” replied Elinor, “that while I am at Barton Park, I never think of tame and quiet children with any abhorrence.” 

[S&S, Vol. 1, Ch. xxi ]

Two Brock illustrations of “sweet” Lucy…

Fig. 1 "We have been engaged these four years"

Fig. 2 "She could have no doubt of its being Edward's face"


So we might think that Austen was the first writer to use the phrase, albeit putting it into the mouth of one of her more vulgar characters.  But a quick search of Google Books brings up the following sources:

1.  Algernon Sidney. Of the Use and Abuse of Parliaments: In Two Historical Discourses. 1744 – a reference is made to “outside of enough” as somewhere expressed by Shakespeare. [I did search the Shakespeare Concordance  and the term “outside” comes up 14 times in Shakespeare’s texts, but alas! all lacking the necessary “of enough”] 

2.  Colley Cibber.  The Dramatic Works of Colley Cibber.  1777. “…I’ll have everything on the outside of enough today.” 

3.  Joseph Gwilt, et al.  An Encyclopaedia of Architecture.  1842. re: “premising, that if the caution whereof we speak be taken, the thickness resulting from the following investigations will be much more than the outside of enough.” [p. 410]

4.  Henry C. K. Wyld.  A History of Modern Colloquial Idiom.  1920.  Wyld cites the above Austen passage as “largely the way of speech of the better society of an earlier age, which has come down in the world, and survives among a pretentious provincial bourgeoisie.” [p. 376] [which seems to indicate the term was used in an earlier period and Austen would have been familiar with that…]

So, I must carry on and dig deeper and find a better reference – if anyone has any thoughts, please comment – but shan’t we at least credit Austen (via Heyer I would think) with what appears to be the source for the excessive use of the term today? – I do feel the need to nearly scream, “all right, all right, the constant use of this phrase is really the outside of enough”!


Copyright @Deb Barnum, Jane Austen in Vermont, 2011.

8 thoughts on “Jane Austen’s ‘Outside of Enough’

  1. Charming, Deb! It reminds me of “St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate” and “St. Giles-without-Cripplegate”!! meaning just outside those two gates of the city wall by the same names – prepositional phrase preceding an adjective (in JA’s case) and preceding a noun (in the case of church names), but both adding to our understanding. I wonder if JA’s father had something in his library that was her source or if it was simply something her mother (with her Leigh “better society” background) said. Wherever it comes from, it’s lovely!


  2. Wonderful stuff, Vic! I love the phrase as well. Needless to say, I’m delighted my Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English was wrong about its etymology. Thanks to your research, I now can use it in my writing. Kudos!


    • Hi Joanna – Deb here, not Vic [who is at Jane Austen’s World, and lucky for her, not in Vermont at this time of year!] – but thanks for the compliment! I find your dictionary very useful, so sorry to find that this was off – in searching the term, your dictionary is the only link that comes up! – do you know where you found your reference in the first place?

      I need to look further into this – I heard from Julie at Austenonly who checked the OED and it is not in there. I have Brewer’s Phrase and Fable and it is not in there either – cannot depend upon what comes up in Google Books as that doesn’t cover everything in print, but a good place to start…

      Stay tuned! – and thanks for visiting Joanna!


  3. The phrase ‘outside of enough’ is frequently used by Elinor brent- Dyer in her ‘Chalet School’ series of girls’ stories, published between the 1930s and 1960s. But I’ve never known anyone who used it in real life.


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