Electronic origins for "loop"

Posted by R. Berg on March 11, 2002

In Reply to: Out of the loop posted by TheFallen on March 10, 2002

: : : : : : : : : : Our family has an email list and recently one person said: "sorry I have been lax in writing, but I have been 'out of pocket' the past couple weeks.

: : : : : : : : : : I understood what she meant - not functioning up to par - but I another family member who continually scrutinizes everything said it meant 'spending money out of our pocket' as in 'out of pocket expenses'.

: : : : : : : : : : I never for a minute thought that.

: : : : : : : : : : Comments welcome.

: : : : : : : : : I understand "out of pocket" the same way your other family member does: as describing casual outlays of cash or small expenditures, small in relation to bigger budget items. But, then, I too continually scrutinize everything.

: : : : : : : : It has another meaning. Out of pocket means something like out of communication, out of range. If I find something more specific, I'll post it.

: : : : : : : Found it.

: : : : : : : OUT OF POCKET - "Used in the Southwest for 'absent, unavailable.' 'I'll be out of pocket awhile, but I'll call you as soon as I can." From the "Happy Trails: Western Words and Sayings" chapter in the Facts on File Dictionary of American Regionalisms: Local Expressions from Coast to Coast by Robert Hendrickson (Facts on File, New York, 2000).

: : : : : : In the UK 'out of pocket' means that you have paid out for something and not had an equivalent return, such as paying for business expenses and your boss not giving back to you what you actually paid out.

: : : : : An equivalent UK phrase for not feeling or functioning up to par would be "out of sorts". As has been mentioned above, over here, "out of pocket" exclusively refers to having been left at a financial disadvantage.

: : : : ... around 1974 "out of pocket" also started being used to mean "out of touch" or "unavailable." No one seems to know exactly why this sense arose or what the "pocket" in this case might be. Personally, I suspect that it's a bad translation of some French phrase. In any case, this sense of "out of pocket" is not, as far as I can tell, widely used. A more common phrase meaning the same thing is "out of the loop," which first appeared around 1983 and is probably rooted in computer terminology.
: : : : From The Word Detective (Jan 20, 2000)

: : : : ... *out of pocket* has come to mean 'unreachable, absent, unavailable'. Lurking on the Internet discussion group "alt.usage.english," I'm convinced that this "newer" meaning is at least 25 years old, originally not too common, but now increasingly used over a wide area. In fact the *Dictionary of American Regional English* promises *out of pocket* as a "coming attraction" in the forthcoming Volume IV. Their draft entry is labeled "Chiefly South and South Midland," a regional distribution that includes southern states (such as Georgia and Alabama), and states just above this region (such as Tennessee and Kentucky). However, I would add that *out of pocket* is also used in Hawaii (thank you!), on the West Coast, in the Midwest and West (especially in Texas), and even in the Northeast (such as in the financial districts of New York City). ...
: : : : The phrase *out of pocket* also means 'out of place; out of order', and often describes unacceptable behavior or situations. This meaning has its roots in Black English of the 1940s, and refers to the pockets on a pool table. An example from a recent edition of *The Los Angeles Times*: "Any outsider who would attempt to engage in that conversation would be out of pocket."
: : : : From The Mavens' Word of the Day (May 22, 2001)

: : : I always agree with what the Word Detective says, but not this time. "Out of the loop" is used here (West Coast, U.S.) of someone who is excluded, intentionally or not, from communications within a group, often in grapevine form. You are out of the loop if most people in your office knew about the meeting in advance and you didn't. -- rb

: : I remember seeing a cartoon up in someone's office. "Out of the loop? I didn't even know there was a loop."

: For what it's worth, the UK interpretation of "out of the loop" matches exactly with R Berg's understanding - which is unsurprising, since I believe the expression to have come to us from across the pond. I am pretty sure that its origins are electronic or computational in origin too - a component that is literally "out of the loop" will of course not function and will play no part in either the reception, the processing or the retransmittal of data.

: However, in a spirit of kindness to The Word Detective, maybe its claim for "out of the loop" is based on a subtly different interpretation of "out of touch". "Out of touch" can of course mean too far away to be contacted, but it can also mean "not aware of what's going on" or "unable to relate to", as in "the government is entirely out of touch with the feelings of younger voters". This then becomes a little closer to the meaning of "out of the loop" - it's not entirely satisfactory, though.

"Electronic or computational in origin"--Aha. So the original loop was an electrical circuit?