# Out of the box

#### goldencypress

##### Senior Member
Does "out of the box thinking / solutions" mean from within the box or from outside of the box? I know that it means the latter, but can't it be confused as meaning from within the box as in the following example.

Out of 10 students only 7 passed.
Out of ten candies in the box, only 3 are left.

• #### dojibear

##### Senior Member
No. Your examples talk about "7 out of 10" and "3 out of 10". That is one meaning of "out of": to describe a numbered subset of a larger numbered set.

Obviously "out of the box" is not that meaning, since it isn't "3 out of 6 boxes".

Another use of "out of" is location. When talking about locations, we can say:
- in the box
- out of the box

- inside the box
- outside the box

- inside of the box
- outside of the box

- on the inside of the box
- on the outside of the box

#### goldencypress

##### Senior Member
Thank you, dojibear

#### entangledbank

##### Senior Member
'Out of the box thinking' is a cliché, with an unusual origin, not the usual meaning of 'out of'; and 'out of the box solutions' is dangerously close to ambiguous. It sounds like you're taking the solutions out of the box - the solutions are already there in the box, pre-packaged, so you don't have to think about them. But it really means you're thinking and solutions are outside the 'box', the 'envelope', which is the usual range of thinking.

#### goldencypress

##### Senior Member
'Out of the box thinking' is a cliché, with an unusual origin, not the usual meaning of 'out of'; and 'out of the box solutions' is dangerously close to ambiguous. It sounds like you're taking the solutions out of the box - the solutions are already there in the box, pre-packaged, so you don't have to think about them. But it really means you're thinking and solutions are outside the 'box', the 'envelope', which is the usual range of thinking.
Thank you, eb. //It sounds like you're taking the solutions out of the box - the solutions are already there in the box//. It is this use of "out of" that was the reason for the OP.

#### goldencypress

##### Senior Member
No. Your examples talk about "7 out of 10" and "3 out of 10". That is one meaning of "out of": to describe a numbered subset of a larger numbered set.

Obviously "out of the box" is not that meaning, since it isn't "3 out of 6 boxes".

Another use of "out of" is location. When talking about locations, we can say:
- in the box
- out of the box

- inside the box
- outside the box

- inside of the box
- outside of the box

- on the inside of the box
- on the outside of the box
Can't we say, "The magician pulled out a large rabbit out of a small box?" If we can, doesn't it follow that "out of" can mean "from within?"

#### Barque

##### Senior Member
Can't we say, "The magician pulled out a large rabbit out of a small box?"
Yes.
If we can, doesn't it follow that "out of" can mean "from within?"
It can, but not in "thinking out of the box" because that's the intended meaning.

To draw a crude parallel, the word "bear" can mean "giving birth". But when someone says "I can't bear the suspense", would you say that he might mean "I can't give birth to the suspense"? No, because that isn't the intended meaning of "bear".

#### goldencypress

##### Senior Member
Yes.

It can, but not in "thinking out of the box" because that's the intended meaning.

To draw a crude parallel, the word "bear" can mean "giving birth". But when someone says "I can't bear the suspense", would you say that he might mean "I can't give birth to the suspense"? No, because that isn't the intended meaning of "bear".
Thank you, Barque.

#### kentix

##### Senior Member
In the U.S. we generally always say "thinking outside the box". All the normal, standard ways of thinking about and doing things are inside the (metaphorical) box. They are trapped in a small space. There is not much room for change.

Thinking outside the box means not being constrained by those normal limits. You can think of new, sometimes crazy, ways of doing things that have never been tried before. Many will be bad ideas but you hope some will be very good. Either way, they will be new ideas and not the old ideas stuck in the box.

So, in American English, out of the box thinking is ambiguous. Does it mean "thinking outside the box" as above? Or does it mean taking old ideas out of the box and using those instead of new ideas?

#### goldencypress

##### Senior Member
In the U.S. we generally always say "thinking outside the box". All the normal, standard ways of thinking about and doing things are inside the (metaphorical) box. They are trapped in a small space. There is not much room for change.

Thinking outside the box means not being constrained by those normal limits. You can think of new, sometimes crazy, ways of doing things that have never been tried before. Many will be bad ideas but you hope some will be very good. Either way, they will be new ideas and not the old ideas stuck in the box.

So, in American English, out of the box thinking is ambiguous. Does it mean "thinking outside the box" as above? Or does it mean taking old ideas out of the box and using those instead of new ideas?
I agree. Thinking outside the box certainly removes the ambiguity. And it was this ambiguity that prompted my OP. Thank you, kentix.

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