April 7th, 2004
Out of pocket / the plural of Jones
by Barbara Wallraff
Janet E. Griffith, of Mount Vernon, Iowa, writes, “I’m hoping you can enlighten me on the current meaning of ‘out of pocket.’ I have always understood the expression to mean ‘missing money,’ as in ‘He didn’t pay me back, and now I’m out of pocket the five dollars.’ Recently I have heard the expression used to mean ‘out of town’ or ‘out of touch,’ as in ‘I didn’t hear the news; I was out of pocket a few days.’ I can’t see any logic in this.”
Logical or not, some people have been using “out of pocket” to mean “unavailable, absent, out of place” for more than 30 years, according to the Dictionary of American Regional English. The usage originated, or at least is most common in, the South and lower Midwest. It seems to have grown out of older expressions like “living out of each other’s pockets” or “in one another’s pocket,” said of people who are on close terms or live close together. That might explain why “out of pocket,” curiously enough, always refers to people, not things. For instance, nobody says “My glasses are out of pocket”—which would be more logical—to mean the glasses are missing.
Susan Rose, of West Bloomfield, Mich., writes, “In a recent column, you discussed the family name Rudy. But how do you sign a card from a family whose last name has an ‘s’ sound at the end? My concern is with the family name Jones.”
I’m just not going to ask why if your family name is Rose, you’re interested in signing cards as if they’re from the Joneses. I’m just not. That would be the way to sign them, though: “The Joneses.”
© Copyright 2003 by Barbara Wallraff. Reprints require prior permission. All rights reserved.