The Meaning of Out of Pocket: What It Is and How To Use It

Do you know the definition of out of pocket? This article will provide you with all of the information you need on the term out of pocket, including its definition, etymology, usage, example sentences, and more!

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What does the term out of pocket mean?

According to Urban Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Unabridged English Dictionary, and Quick and Dirty Tips, the term out of pocket has three different potential meanings. First, the term out of pocket, or out-of-pocket, can refer to expenses that one has to pay with their own money rather than an alternative source. For example, many health care and insurance companies have out-of-pocket expenses that are later reimbursed. These could include copayments or other medical expenses associated with a person’s insurance plan. This amount of money can range from small copays to astronomical personal finds that one must pay from their own pocket. Many times, insurance companies will have out of pocket maximums or deductibles that mean an employee only ever has to pay so much of their own money in a year before being reimbursed. This can be very frustrating for employees, however, if they are constantly short on cash that they need to be repaid. If there are other out-of-pocket expenses that an employee would have to incur, sometimes a company will provide the employee with a company credit card to mitigate the out-of-pocket costs. 

The term out of pocket is also used in American English and British English to refer to someone who is unreachable at a certain time. For example, if someone is trying to schedule a call at a certain time but you are already booked, you can say that you are out of pocket and need to find another time. If you are on an airplane traveling for a business trip, you may be considered out of pocket because you do not have cell phone or wifi service.

Finally, the term out of pocket is also used as a slang term. This term refers to doing or saying something that is inappropriate, similarly to telling someone they have gone too far. For example, if someone won’t stop talking about their dog’s bowel movements, especially when you are trying to eat lunch, this might be considered out of pocket behavior, and you can tell your friend that they are being out of pocket, or that the detailed descriptions of their dog’s tummy troubles are out of pocket.

Finally, the term out of pocket is used exclusively in British English to refer to being in the position of being out of funds, or having lost money. For example, if someone visited a casino and blew all of their money on slot machines with nothing in return, they could be exiting the casino out of pocket. One could also say how they skimp on eating out when they’re feeling out of pocket, or low on funds.

Overall, this is a very versatile term with many different meanings. Since the phrase out of pocket can mean so many different things, make sure that you provide the reader or listener with the proper context so that they can infer the correct meaning. This should be standard practice with any words, phrases, or acronyms that can have more than one meaning.

How can the term out of pocket be used in conversation?

The term out of pocket is very versatile and can be used in many different sentences. In this example, Jan is annoyed at her company.

Jackie: Jan, what’s the matter?

Jan: I’m so annoyed at upper management. They keep making me go out of pocket for the company lunches, and it takes them forever to pay me back. I can barely pay my bills because I’m waiting to be reimbursed over a grand.

Here, out of pocket refers to expenses Jan must pay from her own funds. In this next example, Jan returns Jackie’s call.

Jackie: Hey, what’s up?

Jan: Hey sorry I missed your call, I was out of pocket over lunch.

Here, Jan uses the phrase out of pocket to refer to the face that she was unavailable. In this final example, Jan and Jackie are having brunch after a night out.

Jackie: Oh my God, Jan, you were out of pocket last night.

Jan: I was? I barely remember!

What is the origin of the phrase out of pocket?

According to Visual Thesaurus, the Oxford English Dictionary states that the first known usage of the term out of pocket was used in an 1885 law journal in the following sentence:

“The plaintiffs incurred various out-of-pocket expenses.”

Here, we see the first and most common meaning of out of pocket. According to the OED, the phrase out of pocket first appeared in 1679, stemming from the term in pocket, which meant having enough money. Using the phrase out of pocket to mean unavailable traces back to an O. Henry story in 1908, in the following sentence:

“Just now she is out of pocket. And I shall find her as soon as I can.”

This meaning became popular in the 1970s. Finally, the American Slang Dictionary states that the term out of pocket was first used to mean wild or too far from an unknown source.

Overall, the phrase out of pocket has multiple different phrases. It can refer to money that a person must pay from their own funds versus a company’s expenses, it can refer to being unavailable or unreachable, or it can be used as a slang term to describe something that is inappropriate or something that has crossed the line. This is a very versatile term that can be used in many different contexts.