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    October 07, 2006

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    Trisha Ristagno

    I share your disdain for this dumb business phrase. Never understood it - except perhaps to mean that "if I'm out of [your] pocket, then I'm NOT under your thumb". Most certainly passive aggressive language.

    Tom Callis

    Great rant and explanation. I've overheard that phrase tossed around on conference calls and just didnt' get it. Thanks for clearing that up. You should really send this in to Slate's The Explainer column.

    Pierre

    AWESOME article! Do I EVER share your disdain for such a STUPID mutation of an accounting phrase!!

    Good work and thank you!

    Pierre

    In pocket

    I wondered about the same change in this expression after having a boss in the late 1990s, a sole proprietor, who would always say she was "out of pocket" when she was meeting clients in a neighboring city. All of her expenses, even photocopying costs inside the office, were in my opinion "out of pocket" until she could bill the client for them, however. Many of the out-of-town trips involved no expenses beyond the cost of gas, in fact, and she always took a cell phone. I think she just liked repeating expressions that she'd heard from more sophisticated businesspeople.

    In pocket

    This is out-of-topic, but have you noticed the use of "recoup" as a short version of "recuperate"? Without seeing it written, you cannot tell whether they are trying to say "recupe," which might be an acceptable informal abbreviation, but the erroneous "recoup" appeared in the English subtitles for Pan's Labyrinth.

    Linda

    This is from Random House, the dictionary publisher......
    The phrase out of pocket also means 'out of place; out of order', and often describes unacceptable behavior or situations. This meaning has its roots in Black English of the 1940s, and refers to the pockets on a pool table. An example from a recent edition of The Los Angeles Times: "Any outsider who would attempt to engage in that conversation would be out of pocket."

    Glyn Thomas

    In the UK 'out of pocket' means money spent which cannot be recovered and is a term long in common use not connected with accountancy or tax at all.

    Paul Tletski

    The only other permutation that I can think of is in football terminology when a quarterback is "out of pocket". Out in the wild with no protection he may just end up "out-of-reach, not available for some specified period of time."

    ninshubur

    I don't think the contempt is necessary: "out of pocket" has long been used by foreign correspondents to mean "on assignment, out of range." Google "out of pocket as a reporter" and you'll probably see what I mean.

    It's not really for you to decide how language is used, by the way.

    Joe

    It may be an annoying contemporary phrase bantered about offices, but "out of pocket" is a common southernism in the US meaning, of course, "unavailable." I believe it goes back to an earlier time when news correspondants on assignment during the Civil War (or earlier) were out-of-pocket. I always thought that this expression was a great use of regional English.

    carey lyons

    Ask anyone that uses this term and they have no idea where the term came from and why it means what they think it means. I've asked over 20 people over the last month and not on has a clue!

    Brian

    I've taken it to mean "I won't have my phone or pda with me. It won't be "in my pocket". Therefore, I'm out of reach... out of pocket.

    Byron Jacobs

    It’s origin had nothing to do with money. It’s actually a nautical term. A “pocket” is also a “bight on a lee shore”. A "bight" is a small inlet and a "lee shore" the protected shore where one prefers to anchor. If you’re “out of pocket” you’re missing, not available and can’t be reached. Accountants coined the identical term much later and it has taken on new meaning. That happens all the time in English. Originally (40 years ago), "hacker" meant a programmer who hacked up pieces of programs to make a new one. It was a term of disdain because most programmers preferred to create programs from scratch and felt hackers were unoriginal and that hacker's programs contained bad code and comments. Now it's used to refer to malicious programmers who attack a system or network. That only took 40 years! Our language evolves.

    katielady

    I love this article! I just recently began working in an office where my team uses that phrase all the time. I have begun to take an "OOP tally" during team meetings where I actually tick off every time I hear it. It is the only thing that I can do to 1. stay awak and 2. keep myself from becoming angry at the mis-use of the phrase.
    I have counted up to 7 times in one hour. It is usually around 3-4.
    Thank you for this post.

    Allisor

    "Ask anyone that uses this term and they have no idea where the term came from and why it means what they think it means."

    This is probably true of most words and phrases...

    Doug

    What about "Radio Silence"? That was how I would say I was not reachable. "Don't bother calling after 4pm because I'm observing strict Radio Silence the weekend."

    Kristel

    I just had the misfortune of hearing a coworker of mine use this expression. It annoyed me beyond belief, causing me to search the web, thusly finding your article. You seem to insinuate that this a hip mutation of an old saying. Let me state, the party that just used this was neither smart nor hip... a dinasour actually, whose typical daily vocabulary entails asking clients "how the hell are ya??" with a thick southern accent. I have a new-found hatred of this twisted expression.

    Kristel

    I just had the misfortune of hearing a coworker of mine use this expression. It annoyed me beyond belief, causing me to search the web, thusly finding your article. You seem to insinuate that this a hip mutation of an old saying. Let me state, the party that just used this was neither smart nor hip... a dinasour actually, whose typical daily vocabulary entails asking clients "how the hell are ya??" with a thick southern accent. I have a new-found hatred of this twisted expression.

    gf

    It's not a new usage. I'm in my 40's and have used this to mean "out of reach" my whole life. I can easily trace this meaning back several generations in my family. Maybe it is just a Southern term.

    John

    I've come to know "out of pocket" in the military and civil service arena where we are often sent out of the office on travel and/or special assignment over holidays and weekends. While we are away from the office, we are still supposed to be reachable both day and night when we are working 'on the clock' (i.e., collecting pay). When we are not on the clock, we are said to be 'out of pocket', because we are not being compensated, spending our own earnings, and are on our own time. Even though we may still be on assignment, 'out of pocket' is a break from the job and, even though we're not a home, it means the same thing as one who wishes to not be bothered with work when at home.

    Tom Carnevale

    The English language evolves, in this case in a somewhat logical way.

    Ever wonder about a person keeping his or her eye or eyeballs peeled?

    John Ford

    Is it possible that being "out of pocket" actually does refer to an expense? In this modern age, most employees are given an alotment of time for personal use, for sickness, for holiday, for physician appointments, etc. If I am to be "out of pocket" for the rest of the day, say 13:00 to 17:00, might I not be "spending" some of my personal time, time which I cannot recoup? Just a thought...

    Bob N

    Thank you for writing this article and restoring my sanity. I've had an outbreak of 3 people in my office using 'out of pocket' in the annoying way you describe. i hate being the guy that has to correct other people's spelling and grammar, and their improper use of this phrase forces me to be that person.

    I've only recently just come to terms with people using the phrase "I can speak to that...". why not just wear your underwear on the outside of your pants?

    Ben

    People in my office are using this and it keeps annoying me.

    at work

    I enjoyed this article. I was just reading the response from the poster 'in pocket' on 9/10/07 and I thought, maybe someone is 'out of pocket' because they are out on business. In other words they will be traveling on business, so all expenses really will be out of pocket until they turn in their expense report. But really they should have a credit card, so it's still outdated. Just a thought.

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