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This context comes from the tv show "Mindhunter" It's an exchange between the detectives Bill Tench and Holden Ford and a local welder by the name of Alvin that works near a dump at which a body of a murdered woman was found.

My question is:

Does "out by the dump" in the following context mean at a distance from where Holden is right now (and also where the dump is located)?

Also it's not entirely certain if the location in which the conversation takes place is entirely enclosed on all sides therefore the doubt that "out" simply mean "outside". Here's a screenshot from the show.

enter image description here

[Holden] We're told you found Beverly Jean's body. How'd you happen to find yourself at the dump?

[Alvin] Hiking. Wopsononock Mountain. Like to take the trail, clear my head.

[Bill] Get a break from the wife and kids?

[Alvin] That's right. Get up there a few times a week. Take the dog for a walk.

[Holden] Still not clear how that puts you at the dump.

[Alvin] The path comes in pretty close.

[Holden] -Does it? You see any sign of a hiking trail out by the dump, Bill?

[Alvin] The other side of the railroad tracks, up the hill. Probably looks like a bunch of trees from where you're standing.

The only definition I found is from Oxford Language but in this case "out" and "by" are separated by a hyphen:

out-by adv:

situated or operating in the open air or at a distance from somewhere. "you don't want to go out-by on a cold day like this"

The verb "out" alone on the other hand only provides examples that have to do with islands locations.

  1. located at a distance; outlying: the out islands.(collins dictionary)
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    Prepositions like out/off/over/across by/at [the dump] are often quite flexibly used anyway, but you're wrong to think out only works if speaker's location is "entirely enclosed on all sides". In your context it seems like there's a roof, which is more than enough. Besides which, you can be completely outside (in a garden, for example) and still refer to some place as out by the main road. Apr 25, 2023 at 21:45
  • I'm inclined to interpret your cited example as meaning [Did you see anything] when you were out [of the police station, doing "legwork" detecting stuff]...? But to a considerable extent, prepositions aren't "proper words" with meaningful dictionary definitions; they're often nothing more than arbitrarily-established bits of "syntactic glue" for linking real words together. Apr 25, 2023 at 21:50
  • Out in the country, near the dump. Apr 26, 2023 at 8:26
  • @Fumble Finger: I don't understand your example "when you were out [of the police station, doing "legwork" detecting stuff]...?" They are not at the police station. "Out by the damp" can only mean "outside of the building in the picture" I'm very confused by your comment. Apr 26, 2023 at 11:34
  • They're detectives, who presumably spend much of their time "at the office" (in the police station). So if someone had phoned and asked to speak to Bill while he was "investigating" round by the dump, Holden might have taken the call and said "He's out. Can I take a message?" Most likely Holden was "in" while Bill was "out", so he could easily be intending that sense much later when both of them are "out". Apr 26, 2023 at 16:09

3 Answers 3

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Does "out by the dump" in the following context mean at a distance from where Holden is right now (and also where the dump is located)?

The adverb "out" can suggest that the location is at some distance from the speaker. However, in a comment your wrote that "the dump in question is not far away but just outside the building that's visible in the picture I attached". In that case, it might simply mean "outside". Looking at Collins online, I found this explanation:

You can use out to indicate that you are talking about the situation outside, rather than inside buildings.
It's hot out–very hot, very humid.

It also gives this definition for British English:

at or to a point beyond the limits of some location; outside
get out at once

and this one for American English:

into or in the open air
come out and play

The speaker does not have to standing in a completely enclosed space. As long as the distinction between outside and inside is clear, one may use "out".

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  • But me and Fumble Fingers established that "out" in this context means "outside". More to the point, the dump in question is not far away but just outside the building that's visible in the picture I attached. The only reason I asked in the first place is that I wasn't sure If "out" can mean "outside" if the person talking or referred to is not being enclosed completely on all sides. (Further research revealed that you only need to be enclosed on most sides). Apr 26, 2023 at 11:39
  • Oh, I wasn't certain because you should have been able to find that entry easily in Collins (or in any other major dictionary). I'll edit this answer. Apr 26, 2023 at 18:41
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Simply, "out" is an adverb, and "by" is a preposition. The phrase "out by" is not a single unit.

"Out" here means "outside", and "by" means "near". They're often used together, but don't have a single meaning.

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Prepositions can be combined like that. "Out by the dump" is similar to "down by the river".

If you add the meaning of "out" from @FumbleFingers comments, you get the location, as vague as it is, being communicated.

Prepositions like out/off/over/across by/at [the dump] are often quite flexibly used anyway, but you're wrong to think out only works if speaker's location is "entirely enclosed on all sides". In your context it seems like there's a roof, which is more than enough. Besides which, you can be completely outside (in a garden, for example) and still refer to some place as out by the main road.

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