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I read this line in an online article:

And, outside a minor paunch and a rapidly expanding billfold, there's nothing heavy about him.

Outside here appears to mean "besides". Does it have this meaning as a preposition?

I looked through ODO and MW, and there is no definition related to "apart from". MW does list "except", but there's no example sentences. I find this usage of outside unfamiliar to me, as it is not literal or physical, but figurative and less common than its physical meanings.

  • @choster I looked through ODO and MW, and there is no definition related to apart from. MW does list except, but there's no example sentences, so I wasn't sure if it fits the usage I encountered in the article. So I accounted this question a worthwhile question. – Eddie Kal Apr 11 '18 at 3:46
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    A synonym would be except for. Normal is outside of: Outside of a few scrapes and bruises, they emerged from the accident unscathed. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Apr 11 '18 at 12:23
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    I would advise learners to avoid using outside to mean apart from, besides, except in this way. That's from definition D3 in the full OED, but the only 2 citations are dated 1864 and 1943. And personally I find the cited usage dated / stilted / literary by comparison with the far more natural / idiomatic apart from. – FumbleFingers May 16 '18 at 12:55
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NOTE: 'besides' means 'in addition to', 'also', 'on top of that, or 'apart from' and is different from 'beside'. 'beside' has a physical connotation and would indicate that something is next to something else or on the side of something, e.g. 'at the side of', 'next to'.

About your question: 'outside' refers to that part that doesn't belong to what is considered to be inside. Outside the house, there is a road. Here the road could be next to the house without any space in between or with space in between (physically); the road could be beside the house, in front of the house, behind ...

I would recommend you to look such things up in e.g. Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary:

beside /bɪˈsaɪd/
preposition
1 at the side of, next to: Come and sit here beside me. Our school was built right beside a river.

2 compared to another person or thing: Those books seem rather dull beside this one.

beside the point
not important or not related to the subject being discussed: The fact that he doesn't want to come is beside the point - he should have been invited.

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I take some issue with this total injunction against the use of "outside" in the "except for" sense. There is a connection between this usage and another cited by The Living Oxford Dictionary among others viz.,"(attributive) not belonging to or coming from within a particular group". Thus "outside" can be used to express distinctions between groups of things besides merely spatial distinctions. The question is what are the natural limits of this expression's scope; can outside of refer to only concrete nouns or can it refer to abstract nouns; does it apply to common nouns or only proper nouns; is it restricted to some other natural class of things. A phrase like "outside the coal industry, no one thinks of coal as a clean fuel" seems perfectly fine. The original example and the scrapes and bruises example both feel like a bit of a stretch here because both apply "outside of" to a group of characteristics and not a group of people, or typically nominalized things.

Now I do think one must be careful of trying to apply a law of transitivity to synonyms here (perhaps someone can chime in with a more technical term for this). In my example you could replace outside of with besides or apart from with only a slight adjustment in meaning; but the use of "outside" is preferable to those options because I am making a sharp distinction between the group of people who are part of the coal industry and those who are not. I do not think besides or apart from always connotes the same sense of sharp distinction. On the other hand, except for, while it seems to work well here, is so logically and grammatically basic that it applies to a wide range of cases that outside of would not.

Whether or not the extension of the use of outside of to include sets of characteristics or traits is idiomatic, I will leave up for continued debate - but these examples do not seem unintelligible to me. I suspect that it is an old usage, coming back to popularity. I would say that the original phrase sounds more natural when it is slightly reworded to "And, outside of having a minor paunch and a rapidly expanding billfold, there's nothing heavy about him".

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