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tr.v. out·did (-dĭd′), out·done (-dŭn′), out·do·ing, out·does (-dŭz′)
To do more or better than (another) in performance or action. See Synonyms at excel.
outdo oneself
To do something exceptional or superb, especially in relation to past efforts: outdid himself in preparing dinner.
American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. Copyright © 2016 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.



(See also ADVANTAGE.)

beat all hollow To surpass completely or thoroughly; to outdo; to excel. The exact origin of this phrase is unknown. Hollow is the key word, meaning ‘thoroughly, out-and-out,’ and all hollowis an American colloquial variant. Various forms of the phrase (have or carry it hollow) were used as early as the middle of the 17th century. Today the most frequently heard form is the full phrase beat all hollow, which appeared as early as 1785 in the Winslow Papers:

Miss Miller … is allowed by your connoiseurs in beauty to beat Miss Polly Prince all hollow.

beat Banagher To outdo, excel, or surpass in absurdity, incredibility, or preposterousness. This Irish expression has been said to derive both from an actual town of that name, and from a hypothetical storyteller of that name, but no authenticating anecdote or evidence for either theory has been proffered.

beat the Dutch To astonish or surprise owing to excess of any sort; to outdo or surpass. The expression is an Americanism dating from the days of the early Dutch settlers. Some say it owes its origin to their reputation as merchants and traders offering the best bargains and fairest prices. Others see it as an outgrowth of the English-Dutch hostility in the New World. Either theory may be correct, since the phrase is used either positively or negatively.

knock the spots out of To surpass or excel by an exceeding degree; to prove superior in a given skill or talent. This phrase, common in the United States in the 19th century, is said to derive from the former practice of developing one’s proficiency in the use of firearms by aiming at the spots on playing cards which had been nailed to a tree. A marksman able to hit any given spot from a regulation distance could “knock the spots out of another or another’s performance. In describing the Duke “learning” Hamlet’s soliloquy to the King, Huck Finn says:

All through his speech, he howled, and spread around, and swelled up his chest, and just knocked the spots out of any acting ever/see before. (Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 1885)

out-Herod Herod To outdo in excessiveness or extravagance; to be more outrageous than the most outrageous. The expression first appeared in Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

I would have such a fellow whipped for o’erdoing Termagant—it out-Herods Herod. Pray you, avoid it. (III, ii)

In these lines Hamlet is admonishing the players to perform with restraint, warning that a bombastic style of acting is not to his taste. In medieval mystery plays Herod was conventionally presented as a roaring tyrant, much given to ranting and raving and extravagant gesture. Use of the expression out-Herod Herod dates from the early 19th century. While it still most often describes blustering behavior or speech, it is by no means limited to such contexts. A person may “out-Herod Herod” by going beyond any other in any particular.

As for manner, he [Alexander Smith] does sometimes, in imitating his models, out-Herod Herod. (Charles Kingsley, Miscellanies, 1853)

Out-Herod often occurs alone, with the character and characteristic in question completed by context; e.g., “He out-Herods Muhammad Ali in fancy talk and footwork.”

run rings around To be unquestionably superior; to easily surpass another’s performance; to defeat handily. No satisfactory explanation of this very common phrase has been found. One source conjectures it stems from races in which one contestant could literally run around his opponent and still come out the victor. Another says the phrase derives from Australian sheep-shearing contests, but fails to provide a clear explanation of the relationship; however, the earliest known citation is from Australia, lending this latter theory a degree of credibility.

Considine could run rings around the lot of them. (Melbourne Argus, October, 1891)

steal [someone’s] thunder See THWARTING

steal the show To be the outstanding or most spectacular person or item in a group, especially unexpectedly; to usurp or get the credit for. This expression is rooted in the theater and refers to an actor or actress whose performance is so impressive and striking that it is the most memorable element in a stage production. Although still used in theater, steal the show is applied figuratively in varied contexts to describe a person or thing whose extraordinary qualities totally overshadow those of other members of a group. One who or that which “steals the show” is often called a show-stealer.

take the cake To be conspicuously good or bad; to be so extraordinary or preposterous as to surprise or stun into momentary incredulity; to excel or surpass. Cakes were often prizes in competitions of different sorts in many cultures, but most theorists agree that this phrase comes from the Black American dance competition called the cakewalk, in which couples would promenade around a large cake, and the one judged most graceful would get the cake as a prize. Though originally used in this sense of “win the prize” or “bear away the bell,” the expression is now almost always heard used ironically. Take the cake more often means to be the worst than to be the best.

Pack up and pull out, eh? You take the cake. (Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie, 1900)

upstage To outdo or surpass; to be a standout; to steal public attention and acclaim from another; to ignore or snub, especially condescendingly. In theater, upstage is the back half of the stage. To upstage an actor, then, is to stand toward the rear of the stage foreing the other actor has to turn his back to the audience so that its attention is effectively diverted from one actor and focused on the one who is doing the upstaging. By extension, upstage is applied in many nontheatrical contexts where one person overshadows or otherwise diminishes the importance of another.

Nada Nice has upstaged the Kid … at your order. (Harry Witwer, The Leather Pushers, 1921)

As an adjective, upstage means condescending, aloof, haughty, stuck-up.

Although Costello … had definite ideas … in connection with his art, as he took pictures seriously, he was never the least bit “upstage” with us youngsters. (Sunday Express, May 10, 1927)

Picturesque Expressions: A Thematic Dictionary, 1st Edition. © 1980 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
The most furious had come to the Buytenhof at daybreak, to secure a better place; but he, outdoing even them, had passed the night at the threshold of the prison, from whence, as we have already said, he had advanced to the very foremost rank, unguibus et rostro, -- that is to say, coaxing some, and kicking the others.
[7] If the invasion of the legitimate sphere of prose in England by the spirit of poetry, weaker or stronger, has been something far deeper than is indicated by that tendency to write unconscious blank verse, which has made it feasible to transcribe about one-half of Dickens's otherwise so admirable Barnaby Rudge in blank-verse lines, a tendency (outdoing our old friend M.
Then came the experienced chaplain of the jail, with more tabular statements, outdoing all the previous tabular statements, and showing that the same people would resort to low haunts, hidden from the public eye, where they heard low singing and saw low dancing, and mayhap joined in it; and where A.