(From The Wrecker by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, Chapter XVIII, published 1892)

Passage 281

I was but a little way down the street, when I was arrested by the sound of some one running, and Jim's voice calling me by name. He had followed me with a letter which had been long awaiting my return.

I took it in a dream. “This has been a devil of a business,” said I.

“Don't think hard of Mamie,” he pleaded. “It's the way she's made; it's her high-toned loyalty. And of course I know it's all right. I know your sterling character; but you didn't, somehow, make out to give us the thing straight, Loudon. Anybody might have—I mean it—I mean——”

“Never mind what you mean, my poor Jim,” said I. “She's a gallant little woman and a loyal wife: and I thought her splendid. My story was as fishy as the devil. I'll never think the less of either her or you.”

“It'll blow over; it must blow over,” said he.

“It never can,” I returned, sighing: “and don't you try to make it! Don't name me, unless it's with an oath. And get home to her right away. Good-bye, my best of friends. Good-bye, and God bless you. We shall never meet again.”

“Oh Loudon, that we should live to say such words!” he cried.

The phrasal verb 'make out' troubles me there. I take it to mean 'succeed' in this context but I'm not sure.

Merriam-Webster has this: link2, link3

make out (verb): Kids Definition

5 : SUCCEED sense 2

make out well in business

succeed (verb):

2a: to turn out well

2b: to reach a desired end or object : be successful

Wiktionary, The free dictionary has this: link4

4.(now chiefly US, regional, intransitive) To manage, get along; to do (well, badly etc.). [from 17th c.]

Oh, you were on a TV game show? How did you make out?

OED has this: link5

to make out, in make, v.¹

transitive. To succeed in accomplishing; to effect, achieve. Now regional exc. colloquial in to make it out: to make shift, get along. See also…

transitive. With infinitive as object. To manage, make shift. Also (occasionally) with impersonal subject, as the weather. Now chiefly U.S. regional.

intransitive. colloquial. To make shift, get along; to succeed, thrive; to get on (well, badly, etc.).

We have to consider both Jim Pinkerton and Loudon Dodd are American. What does 'make out' mean in this context?

  • 3
    Obsolete, regional or dialect usage. From the context I would suggest 'contrive', 'manage', or 'succeed'. Nov 17, 2023 at 12:51
  • 1
    The full OED make out phrasal verb definition I.3 (transitive) To represent or delineate clearly or in detail. Also of a thing: to form the figure of. Obsolete OR III.9.a. To succeed in accomplishing; to effect, achieve. Now regional exc. colloquial in to make it out: to make shift, get along. Nov 17, 2023 at 12:53
  • 1
    Several times now, I have cited links to 19th century dictionaries available online and downloadable as PDFs. Why do you continue to consult contemporary dictionaries on these questions relating to The Wrecker? Dictionaries with a contemporary focus are often not going to tell you about things that have fallen out of use.
    – TimR
    Nov 17, 2023 at 17:04
  • I mean no harm - my first version with only one source was makeshift :).
    – philphil
    Nov 17, 2023 at 20:48
  • It's not that you need more than one source. You need to use a 19th c, dictionary like Websters, as it will have usages no longer current and often missing from 21st c. dictionaries, not even listed there as obsolete; is has the added advantage that it's available online at no charge as a PDF and is not behind a pay-wall.
    – TimR
    Nov 17, 2023 at 23:27

1 Answer 1


Here make out to [verb] is synonymous with the contemporary manage to [verb].

.. to succeed and no more; to have success at last as He made out to reconcile the contending parties.

John Ogilvie The Imperial Dictionary of the English Language: NEW EDITION, CAREFULLY REVISED AND GREATLY AUGMENTED. EDITED BY CHARLES ANNANDALE, M.A. (London, 1883)

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