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The meaning and origin of the expression: In the red

In the red

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What's the meaning of the phrase 'In the red'?

To be 'in the red' is to be in debt.

What's the origin of the phrase 'In the red'?

In the redThe expression 'in the red' derives from the practice of using red ink to denote debt or losses on financial balance sheets. Likewise, businesses that are financially solvent are described as 'in the black'.

This phrase conjures up images of inky-fingered clerks in Dickensian offices scratching in ledgers with quill pens. In fact, the term is much more recent than that. The first known citation of it is in 1907 in Montgomery Rollins' exhaustingly titled Money and investments: a reference book for the use of those desiring information in the handling of money or the investment thereof:

Formerly it was customary, and is now with some bookkeepers, to make an entry of a loss in red ink, from whence arose the term ‘in the red’, always indicating a loss.

Why red was chosen to mark debt isn't clear. It may be the use of red as a warning in other contexts, such as marking important dates as 'red letter days' on calendars.

Despite the closeness in form and colour, there's no connection between the phrases 'in the red' and 'in the pink'.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

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