Pan Out – Origin & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

Idioms are a great way to add some life to your conversations and writing. I like to think of idioms as memes of words! But it’s really important to understand not only the intended meaning of these expressions but also their origins, as it can help broaden the way you use them. So, let’s take a second to explore the definition of “pan out” and see how you should be using it.

Pan Out Meaning Explained

Pan Out Origin Meaning

The idiomatic phrase “pan out” is an expression we use to mean developing or unfolding in a certain way. It usually refers to the outcome of whatever situation is at hand. You can also use it in both positive and negative contexts to pan out well or pan out badly.

  • Negative: My plans for the project clearly didn’t pan out, as the whole thing was a failure.
  • Positive: I loved how my vision for this book panned out.

Is It Pan Out or Panned Out?

Actually, both “pan out” and “panned out” are correct when used in the right context and tense.

“Pan out” is the present tense, and “panned out” is the past tense of the expression.

  • Let’s see how this pans out.
  • I wanted to see how this panned out before making a decision.

Origin of the Term Pan Out

The phrase “pan out” was birthed from the booming gold mining industry during the mid-19th century, specifically the California Gold Rush. Gold prospectors would use a shallow, flat pan (called a wash pan) to wash dirt and gravel in a stream. The pan has tiered rivets along the side, so the heavier gold particles would settle at the bottom while the lighter materials were simply washed away.

This is what’s called “panning.”

The unique process of panning for gold was a way to separate valuable gold from worthless materials, and the outcome of panning was always uncertain. So, the term “pan out” was eventually used in a figurative way to describe how a situation or plan ultimately turned out or developed.

What Are Other Words for Pan Out?

  • Turn out
  • Develop
  • Result
  • Work out
  • Unfold
  • Evolve
  • Progress
  • Lands

Pan Out Examples in a Sentence

Pan Out Origin Meaning 1
  • We hope our new idea to open a bookstore will pan out and become profitable.
  • They were unsure how the situation would pan out, so the couple decided to wait and see.
  • The job interview didn’t pan out as expected, so I’m continuing my job search.
  • Despite a series of unfortunate challenges, the publishing project panned out successfully in the end, and Candace was very pleased.
  • Danielle was curious to see how her friend’s new relationship would pan out.
  • I had no idea how being a writer would pan out, but it was the best choice I ever made.

Did That Pan Out?

That’s another idiom definition to add to the bucket! Now that you know where the term “pan out” came from, it makes much more sense, doesn’t it? Use it to describe any situation where you’re waiting to see how it ends or works out.