could be Out serial killing


I've got this sentence:
He could be out serial killing.

Is it something like "he could be a serial killer" ? Or is it similar to "he could GO out and kill" ?

Or neither will do?

(I have to translate it in Italian but I haven't understood the precise meaning)
Thank you all!
  • JamesM

    Senior Member
    Where did you find this? :) It's extremely odd. "He could be out" usually means "he is probably out and about doing something" as in "He could be out running errands" or "He could be out taking the kids to baseball practice." "He could be out serial killing" is a combination of a common casual phrase and a heinous crime. Is this from a comedy?


    It is from a play by Ayckbourn. I think this sentence is ironic.
    But the meaning is similar to "he could go out and kill?" or it suggests you something different?


    A couple (Hamish and Nikki) discover odd things about a man (Gilbert) : he’s actually painting a nude of Barbara on his ceiling and has kept all her old clothes.
    Here the dialogue:

    Hamish: it's just a harmless obsession.
    Nikki: Harmless?
    Hamish All right, he's a bit over the top, I grant you that. But he's doing no harm, is he? I mean, think of it, he could be out serial killing, couldn't he?
    Nikki You don't think he's a serial killer?
    Hamish God, no. No, no.


    Senior Member
    Thanks for the context and background.

    The comment is part of a larger thought. The thought is that what he is doing is harmless compared to something much more evil such as murder.

    To me it's humorous. The sentence is slightly vague and the ability to see it more than one way makes her reaction funny. It could mean "He could be out (instead) serial killing (rather than harmlessly painting a nude)" or it could mean "it's possible that he is out (in the world) serial killing." Hamish obviously means it the first way but her fear and worry suggests the second meaning to her. That's how I would read it.

    "Serial killing", by the way, is an odd phrase that is also funny to me in this context. We talk about serial killers but I don't think it's common to convert it to a verb. It's as odd as "he's probably popped down to the corner to mass murder a few hundred people."

    (Now I want to read the whole script!)

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    It is funny because it is wildly improbable but the woman seems to take him seriously.
    Inventing a verb "to serial kill " makes it even funnier it sound as if killing one person after another was a normal activity like walking the dog or digging the garden.

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