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#211511 - 03/18/08 03:50 PM "Out of pocket?"
VLinvictus Offline

Registered: 12/05/07
Posts: 273
Loc: NY
Has anyone ever heard of the phrase "out of pocket" being used to mean "unavailable" or "out of communication?"

This is a little linguistic puzzle that has come up at work. 2 weeks ago, an educational consultant we've been working with said that she couldn't make a phone conference because she would be "out of pocket" at the time. Then, today, this political hack we're using as a PR guy said he'll be "out of pocket" on Thursday.

The woman is in her late 30s/early 40s Italian Catholic from the Bronx; the guy is in his early 30s, Jewish, from Connecticut. I've never heard this phrase before neither has my boss or anyone I work with, but that two people from such different backgrounds are using it strikes me as very, very odd.

Does anyone know where this phrase came from and how it came to be? I've only heard of "out of pocket" as fees that you pay yourself instead of being covered by insurance, for example.

We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.
~ Oscar Wilde

#211513 - 03/18/08 04:16 PM Re: "Out of pocket?" [Re: VLinvictus]
ineffable Offline

Registered: 02/07/08
Posts: 1371
Loc: state of holeecrapdood
OUT OF POCKET - "Used in the Southwest for 'absent, unavailable.' 'I'll be out of pocket awhile, but I'll call you as soon as I can."
From the "Happy Trails: Western Words and Sayings" chapter in the
"Facts on File Dictionary of American Regionalisms: Local Expressions from Coast to Coast" by Robert Hendrickson
(Facts on File, New York, 2000).

:: "Anyone who can handle a needle convincingly can make us see a thread which is not there" ::

#211514 - 03/18/08 04:17 PM Re: "Out of pocket?" [Re: VLinvictus]
LandOfShadow Offline

Registered: 12/11/07
Posts: 684
Loc: Minneapolis, Minnesota USA
That sounds odd to me too, but kneeling respectfully before the google and asking politely:
To leave your designated area or be out of range.
Can you cover for me? I'm gonna be out of pocket for a whle.
A: I've always thought that the phrase "out of pocket" referred to the absence of money, not the absence of people. But the expression seems to have evolved into meaning unavailable. Why? I find it annoying!

Q: There appear to be at least three distinct meanings for "out of pocket":

(1) At a fiscal loss: In this case, "out of pocket" means out of one's own pocket—in other words, you have to pay for something yourself. Examples: "I thought the tickets would be free, but I got stuck with paying, so I'm $150 out of pocket." Or, "Mrs. Grosvenor refused to pay for the cabinetry, so the carpenter was out of pocket." The Oxford English Dictionary has this usage dating from 1679.

(2) Behaving badly: According to the newest edition of Cassell's Dictionary of Slang, "out of pocket" is a variation on the phrase "out of (the) pocket," a 1940s African-American expression referring to bad behavior or a bad situation. Cassell's says this meaning grew out of pool jargon (a shot that was "out of pocket" or "out of the pocket" caused a player to miss a turn).

(3) Unavailable: I first came across this meaning in the early 1980s when I was a staff editor at the New York Times. Reporters who had filed stories were supposed to supply phone numbers where they could be reached in case questions arose. If a reporter was unreachable (say, on a plane to Tibet), he or she was said to be "out of pocket." The OED cites published references for this meaning dating back to 1946, though it didn't become common until the 1970s.

I haven’t found an answer to your question about why the third meaning evolved. I also haven’t seen an explanation of why we say out of "pocket" rather than out of "hat" or "glove" or whatever when we’re unavailable, but here’s a possibility.

There's an expression "to have someone in your pocket," which means to have him under your control. Perhaps by extension, if he's "out of pocket" he's no longer under your control or scrutiny. Again, this is just speculation on my part.

Et par le pouvoir d’un mot Je recommence ma vie, Je suis né pour te connaître, Pour te nommer

And by the power of a single word I can begin my life again, I was born to know you, to name you

Paul Eluard


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