Out-of-pocket

Submitted by Bryan Rhodes, executive assistant, Grantmakers Concerned With Immigrants and Refuges

Bryan writes:
Out-of-pocket (frequently used instead of unreachable or out of the office) as in “I will be out of pocket from 11:00am to 12:00pm.”

Tony responds:
When I hear people say “out of pocket” instead of “out of touch,” “out of the loop,” or “unreachable,” I have always assumed they were simply making a mistake. They were, I believed, accidentally using a phrase that means “having spent my own money” — as in, “I took a business trip without getting a cash advance, and now I’m out-of-pocket $2,000, and still waiting for reimbursement.”

This phrase has (I thought) nothing to do with being out-of-reach. I had usually filed it in the same category as using “fulsome” to mean “full” (not even similar — “fulsome” is a seriously disparaging adjective), or “flushed-out” to mean “fleshed-out” (an error that often yields unintentionally comic results).

I still believe most people who use “out-of-pocket” to mean “away” are making a mistake. But they are evidently not as flat-out wrong as I had imagined. The interesting web site “Word Court” — which I recommend to people who like to chew over questions of usage and syntax — has an entry on this expression.

Check out this article for more. The author, Barbara Wallraff, traces a decades-long history of “out-of-pocket” referring to absence, and not just of money. I’m not sure she has convinced me that this use actually makes sense, but she makes a strong, interesting case.

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