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Introductions and Outroductions

thegoldrush1What’s the opposite of an intro? If outro comes to mind, you may be riding a trend. The word shows up in student papers. People say it. People hearing it don’t ask what you mean.

The term outro is now often used to describe the ends of things — music mainly, but other forms, too. “Sympathy for the Devil” has an outro, and we know this because there is at least one YouTube tutorial to help you master it.

The Oxford English Dictionary dates outro to 1967, providing the definition “a concluding section, esp. of a piece of music or a broadcast programme,” adding a bit disingenuously, “Freq. contrasted with intro.” Well, yes, it is in fact freq. contrasted with intro since it’s the older word’s mirror, or — if you’re a usage purist (note I’m avoiding the even more Satanic epithet “prescriptivist” here) — it’s intro’s evil twin.

My hunch is that the idea of an outro is technology-dependent. The acoustic fade, the camera drawing back from the subject — these are shapes of departure we’ve had for only a little more than a century. When Chaplin’s Little Tramp walks away from the camera he disappears — or we do — as the image irises down. Is that an outro to the narrative action? Maybe, but it’s a lot more.

I’m not a fan of the outro, which makes me think of a highly competitive crew team, determined to win the Head of the Charles.

So my two separate but related snags of gathered wool: one methodological, one etymological. What we do at the end of a shaped work is important because it’s the last moment of contact with the reader. How does this piece of writing end? What’s its last, memorable gesture? Where does it point? Academic writers don’t (yet) label their final pages the outro of a study, but they often telegraph in other ways uncertainty about architectural form.

On the other hand, outro is an unfortunate parallel to intro:  We have no term outroduction. (Though one can see the possibilities. “Mary outroduced herself to Susan” — meaning Mary never spoke to Susan again. Snap.)

What then should a writer call the last gesture of a work? What should we readers call it?

Is “Bear up the bodies. / Bid the soldiers shoot” the outro of Hamlet? How about the final pages (in either of Dickens’s versions) of Great Expectations? Watch what Pip and Estella do in the outro?  Probably not.

Conclusion, ending, summary. OK, even finale, epilogue, or postlude if you must.

All good words.

Though none may feel quite as Guitar Hero as outro. I can hear the crowds cheering, and it doesn’t bother me that they’re not real people. Excuse me while I turn the volume up to 11.

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