Out of Pocket

“Making Heads or Tails of Idioms” Newsletter. Volume 1. Issue 4.

Original Release: 11/14/2010

What was said?  Out of Office Message… “I will be out of pocket for the remainder of the week and can be reached on my cell phone at…”

Did someone really say that? Yes. Constantly.

What does it mean?  Out of pocket has roughly three meanings.

In the sentence above, it is used to explain that the individual is unreachable / unavailable through the end of the week even via email and telephone, especially for work purposes. Another definition usually refers to expenses that are not reimbursable and therefore one has to pay it out of their own pocket, especially as it charges / payments that are not covered by health insurance. Finally, the third meaning usually references something “out of whack” and is typically used on the streets (according to my sources)… if someone is wearing something ugly “that girl’s clothes are out of pocket” (however replace girl with another word).

Origin: Around 1974 “out of pocket” started being used to mean “out of touch” or “unavailable.” No one seems to know exactly why this sense arose or what the “pocket” in this case might be… however below is an interesting theory:

“Out of pocket” refers to the quarterback on a passing play in American football. When “in the pocket,” the quarterback is protected by the linesmen, and is therefore in his/her normal mode of operation, operating ideally, relatively stationary (seeking out receivers). When he/she is chased out of the pocket, he/she is on the run, not able to pass effectively, and is unprotected from the vagaries of the other team. “In the pocket” is used multiple times per game by color commentators, and “chased out of the pocket” (also “scrambling”) is used very frequently, or at least was in the 80’s. People who tell me they are “out of pocket” are on the run (on a business trip), not operating ideally (maybe they have their laptop but no high-speed Internet connection), and unprotected (schedule in flux, not at home, etc).

A more common phrase meaning the same thing is “out of the loop,” which first appeared around 1983 and is probably rooted in computer terminology.





My Corporate Flashcards  – with a pic of someone going in an ambulance and the following quote “Looks like he’ll be out of pocket for a while.”

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