In our Aug. 8 discussion of the phrase “out of pocket,” we quoted various sources as saying that it properly means “out of funds,” but that “Somehow over the past year or so, ‘out of pocket’ has become a new business catchphrase meaning ‘unreachable, out of communication,’ which is incorrect.” Unable to find a source to the contrary, I wishy-washily agreed, even though it seemed to me that I’d heard “out of pocket” used to mean “unreachable,” not by business phrase-catchers and longer than a year or so ago.

I’ve since ventured out into the August heat to walk a couple of blocks to the public library — a words columnist’s gotta do what a words columnist’s gotta do — where I consulted the Dictionary of American Regional English. And there I found that “out of pocket” is indeed used, especially in the South and Southwest, to mean “absent or otherwise unavailable.” The first printed use that DARE cited was from 1967, but the expression probably was heard in conversation well before then.

The Telegraph, a newspaper in Alton, Ill., referred to “Pickett, Ark.” William Montgomery writes, “I’m betting this is another town that only sounds like ‘Pickett’ but actually has g’s and an o in it.” And is about as close to Illinois as one can get without leaving Arkansas.

“Nichols said Slade, an information technology professional from Darwin, either died of chest injuries or drowned as the 1,430-pound reptile dragged him under in a disorientating crocodile maneuver known as a death roll.”


Disorientating crocodile maneuvers are not to my liking, and neither is the use of orientate and disorientate in place of orient and disorient. The shorter, less pretentious orient says clearly enough “to get one’s bearings or sense of direction.” Orientate is what Garner’s Modern American Usage calls a “needless variant.” It is more common in British than American usage, according to Success With Words. The crocodile attack occurred in Australia, where the British style takes precedence, I suppose.