A few days ago I mentioned a conversation with friends where we had been divided as to whether 'luck out' was a good or bad thing.
The results beyond out little lunch time gathering were just as mixed - so we're definitely not the only people who are likely to have this argument. Urban Dictionary, that most authoritative of lexicographic tools, argues that the 'luck out' divide is one between US and UK English, with it being used positively in the US and negatively in the UK. My pitifully small sample number of approximately 1.5 UK English speakers and 0.5 US English speakers would appear to conform to this analysis, but those numbers are much too low for me to throw my opinion behind.
Looking very quickly at a comparison between newspapers from different countries. Note, I took a wild guess this would be the most common form used in news reports and didn't bother searching variants like 'lucking out.' The New York Times up to 2007 had 326 references for 'lucked out', The Independent (UK) had 19 references since 1994 and for an Australian angle The Age had 44 search items with 'lucked out' since 1995. I'd love to spend all day going through the clippings, and tallying which sense is used where, and the oldest reported uses etc, but work calls . With only a quick flick it looks like the NYT references are all using the positive sense. the Independent also mostly uses the positive sence but the term mostly crops up in American references and quotes, such as this article on US beaknik Sarah Jepp:
but despite having "lucked-out" with an inexpensive room on the Venice Canals, L.A's vacuous side was beginning to grate.
I'm not sure if a more colloquial UK newspaper would have given a different result, but I'm not plunging into an archive of The Sun this early in the morning.
In The Age there are a mixture of usages, much like our small Australian contingent at the lunch table showed mixed attitudes to the meaning of 'luck out.' This rather pointless article about a pampered dog (From Zero to Hero, 22/05/95) uses the positive sense:
MAX, the five-year-old chihuahua, started life as a pet shop boy. For three weeks, his owner-to-be visited the pet shop almost every day, eyeing this sweet little fur ball all alone in a cage. At the end of three weeks, Jean Pierre Heurteau could resist no longer, so he bought Max and home they went. Max didn't realise it then but he had lucked out he was to start a lifestyle to die for.
While this article on seafood (From the deep 01/07/03) uses the other sense:
"I marinated pieces of the squid in seven different marinades for 12 hours and 24 hours to disguise the flavour, yet this made things little better.
"It's safe to say it won't be appearing on our menu," says Kerry.
Munro is mortified and suggests Kerry must have lucked out with the samples he supplied, but if you're a chef, supply-chain failures in the quality of the product cut little mustard.
You won't find lucked on in Merriam-Webster online. But it does occour in the Oxford English, although, interestingly, only the positive sense, which they site as a US term:
e. to luck out (U.S.), to achieve success or advantage by good luck in a difficult, testing, or dangerous situation.
In the last post, I withheld my own opinion on the matter so as to not bias the conversation. In the interest of full disclosure, I only ever use 'luck out' as a negative thing. If you lucked out things certainly didn't go your way.