News & Features » Miscellany

Broke, or just absent?

Rosie Right

The copy editors online chat group has recently been discussing the meaning of the phrase out of pocket. One member of the group asks, Can anyone tell me what out of pocket is all about? It is used to indicate that someone will be unavailable.

I have heard this phrase often enough recently that I am certain it will soon confront me in print. What exactly does it mean and where did it come from?

The general consensus of the group seems to be that the phrase means cash that one is required to spend. Rosie is certain, however, that she has more than once heard someone say that he or she would be out-of-pocket or unavailable.

Fortunately, Evan Morris of the online site The Word Detective ( has addressed this problem and reports that it has both meanings. He says the phrase is usually used as a sort of shorthand for paying out of one's own pocket that which should be paid by someone else.

OInterestingly, Morris continues, the original sense of out of pocket when it first appeared around 1693 was not so hopeful. It meant to be either broke or `the loser in a financial transaction.

However around 1974 out of pocket also started being used to mean out of touch or unavailable. Mr. Morris doesn't know the reason for the change.

Talk the Talk

Catastrophize, verb, to assume the worst in a given situation; take a pessimistic view. source: Copy Editor newsletter in a list of words that will be in the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Weaponize, verb: We have all heard this in relation to anthrax. Now it will be in the OED defined as To equip with weapons, or place weapons in; (also) to adapt for use as a weapon.

Cyborg A human being whose powers have been augmented by mechanical means. You might not know the name, but you've seen these creations in so many SF action movies, all seeming to star Arnold Schwarzenegger: pumped-up individuals with prosthetic implants, built-in armaments, extended sight and hearing, and other physical enhancements. TV exploiters of the idea - described by a couple of academics in 1960 as an Oexogenously extended organizational complex functioning as an integrated homeostatic system - include Dr. Who's Daleks, The Six Million Dollar Man (based on the novel Cyborg by Martin Caidin) and its spin-off, The Bionic Woman. Source: WorldWide Words,

Let Rosie hear from you by telephone (358-0825, ext. 322), letter (1707 Summit Ave., Suite 201, Richmond, Va. 23230), or e-mail

Add a comment