I could probably understand you if you could just get those words out of the way

A business colleague informed me in an email earlier this week that he would be “out of pocket” the following morning. Really? You’re not going to be safely tucked away in the cozy cloth hollow where you usually conduct business? Are you frightened to venture out into the daylight? Godspeed, brave soldier!

Lots of business people and bureaucrats  seem to find themselves displaced from their pockets lately. Are they being chased by defensive ends? (For non sports fans, that’s a football reference.) Is it getting warm in there? Are you trapped in a hot pocket?

People feel the need to adopt and assign nonsensical meanings to expressions when perfectly suitable words already exist. “I will be out of the office” or “I will be unavailable” would suffice and be more accurate.

And I’m not just splitting hairs, here. In this case, I had emailed the guy to suggest a time for a phone call. He replied that he will “be out of pocket but really wants to talk,” then confirmed the proposed time and said he’d call me. This nebulous usage of “out of pocket” just left me confused. Could he talk at 11 a.m. or not? What he ended up communicating to me: “I’m not available at the time you suggested, so I will call you at the time you  suggested.” Got it!

And this example frustrates particularly because the phrase “out of pocket” already has a useful, widely recognized meaning. It functions quite nicely to designate business expenses paid in advance by and later reimbursed to an employee, or costs a patient must pay that insurance doesn’t cover. It’s hard enough to understand each other; don’t cloud the clear meanings of useful words.

Next week’s rant: Why are business people putting their granular ideas in parking lots?

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