Adam Rice

My life and the world around me

Out of pocket

Just over the past few days, I’ve noticed two friends (who don’t know each other) using the phrase “out of pocket” to mean something like “very busy.” This new sense for an old phrase doesn’t seem to pop up as a popular result in Google. I asked one of them where he picked it up and if it had any particular nuance; his reply was “can’t remember,” and “no.”

Anyone out there have any insight on this?

[Later] Apparently Gwen uses this a lot, and I’ve either never been around to hear it or never paid attention (I’m going with the former); she tells me it has the added meaning of “unreachable.”

9 Comments

  1. I use this term often.Unreachable is the context I relate to.Were these friends young or our age?

    -J

  2. Unavailable for a brief period of time is how I use the phrase, every once in a blue moon, – but it also refers to my having to pay for something myself, …going dutch…rather than being treated to something. Seems like a fairly normal phrase to me – but when someone said to me “fix you up a plate” I had to wonder where the heck they came from!

  3. I’ve heard this usage also and suspect that it originated as a misuse of “out of pocket expenses.” It’s not available in your plan, you pay for it out of pocket. morph morph–> “I’m not available”

    Or I guess it could just mean the mouse escaped.

  4. DJSloan/Houston

    6 April 2004 at 11:50 pm

    Adam .. I heard “Out of Pocket” frequently enough in London and Amsterdam offices of my former Company to think that it migrated from Europe to our US offices, thence to the rest of the world. DJS

  5. First I ever heard this phrase used as “unavailable” was in South Carolina business setting. Everybody in the office was using it that way. The latest craze phrase is “Circle back” as in “Circle back with so-and-so for an update.” I wonder if I missed out on the memo on what new phrases to use.

  6. Used to hear this a lot from a guy in North Louisiana. I had never heard it used that way prior. I used to cringe every time he said that.

  7. Glad to hear I’m not the only one who has noticed and thought odd. I work at a large corporate law firm and have gotten weekly doses of “I’ll be out of pocket for 2-3 hrs but when I return we’ll circle up and get back on the same page” for the last year and a half. Painful.

  8. Glad to find your web page that deals with this. I’ve heard this a lot at work. I took it to mean “away from the office and therefore unreachable/unavailable.” However, I wondered how in the world the word “pocket” happened to be used instead of “touch,” since my only familiarity with the expression “out of pocket” was in reference to money spent. I think Daverius (above) hit the nail on the head with his explanation.

    tim & bpm – I cringe, too.

    SLayne & tim –

    I think that people might be using “Circle back with” and “circle up” out of boredom with using “get back with ” or “contact” or “get together.”

    I heard “circle back” used the other day in a video about how to avoid work interruptions. For example, if someone comes into your office and you need to work, the suggestion was to escort the person out of your office on the pretense of showing them something or of going somewhere yourself, ditching them somewhere, and “circling back” to your office to get back to your interrupted work.

  9. This use of the phrase started in the southern and southwestern US, and is still more common there than elsewhere. It comes from the game of pool, in which an “out of pocket” shot – a player fails to sink a ball into a pocket – means a missed turn. Therefore, “I am not available” (to play my turn). The phrase was also used by US Afro-Americans in the 1940s-70s to refer to someone acting in an unacceptable or tasteless manner.

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