"Out of pocket" = "out of touch"/"gone" (1909 or earlier)

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Sun Oct 26 21:47:54 UTC 2008

Just in case this hasn't made it to the OED yet ....

This can be reviewed at Google Books:


This is a collection of O. Henry writings copyrighted 1909. I don't know
whether the story itself was first published significantly earlier than

O. Henry, "Buried Treasure", in _Options_: v. 8, p. 110, in this edition
of _The Complete Writings of O. Henry_:

[Two men have their eye on the same young woman, who lives with her
father. One day they go to visit, and find father and daughter have
cleared out, apparently moved away 'without a forwarding address'. They
are discussing the situation.]

<<"She is meant for higher things," repeated Goodloe Banks. / "Whatever
she is meant for," I answered, "just now she is out of pocket. And I
shall find her as soon as I can without aid of the colleges.">>

"Out of pocket" here seemingly means "disappeared" or "not locatable",
rather than the usual "missing some money".

It might even be very tentatively suggested that this passage might
(just might!) contain the first and original and ancestral use in this
novel and peculiar sense ... at least until/unless an earlier example

O. Henry was not averse to malapropisms and other aberrant usages. In
this same story a character is described thus: <<He lived for bugs and
butterflies and all insects that fly or crawl or buzz or get down your
back or in the butter. He was an etymologist, or words to that effect.>>

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

More information about the Ads-l mailing list