Historically Speaking

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Posts Tagged ‘in the black’

In The Red

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 23, 2011

If someone or a company is “in the red” it means that amount of money being paid out is greater than the amount of money coming in.  As with the term “in the black” this phrase comes from accounting practices where positive numbers were written in black ink and negative numbers were written in red ink.

Even though several websites are quick to state that the earliest citation of “in the red” can be found in the “Wise-Crack Dictionary” written and published by George H. Maines and Bruce Grant in 1926, Idiomation has good reason to believe the expression was in use prior to 1926 as shown by the ease with which the term “in the black” was used in a Wall Street Journal news story in 1923.

Catholic Culture magazine ran a story in May 2001 about the situation with the diocese in New York City.  Early in the report, readers were informed that:

When then-Archbishop Egan (he was made a cardinal in February) was appointed to succeed John Cardinal O’Connor, who died in May 2000, his first priority was to save the archdiocese from potential financial breakdown. New York had been operating for a decade with a $20 million budget deficit, and that didn’t include individual parishes and schools that were also operating in the red. Cardinal Egan did not announce the details of his plan at the time, but rumors ran rampant through the chancery about what might be cut back.

On January 18, 1960 the Gettysburg Times ran an Associated Press Special Service story out of Washington, D.C. about the St. Lawrence Seaway that had opened the previous April and that was expected to operate at a loss of $2,359,000 for the year starting July 1, 1960.  The headline read:

New Seaway Operating “In The Red

On October 5, 1933 the New York Times carried a news story entitled, “Montgomery Ward Turn $1,000,000 Net Profit In August After Setbacks Since First Year.”  The story reported:

After operating “in the red” for the first half of this year, Montgomery Ward & Co. had a net profit of approximately $1,000000 in August, the management announced today.

On August 30, 1930, just as the Great Depression took hold, the Wall Street Journal published a news story entitled, “Losses In Sugar Spur Agreement” reported:

European beet producers, high tariffs and bounties notwithstanding, have been operating in the red for many years, and the position of the industry is precarious. At first the producers of each country will be approached independent of government influence.

That Idiomation could not find an earlier published version of the expression than the “Wise-Crack Dictionary” of 1926, it is reasonable to believe that the term was in vogue at least as early as 1923 when its partner term “in the black” was being used with the expectation of being understood in Wall Street Journal story quotes.

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In The Black

Posted by Elyse Bruce on June 22, 2011

In the black is a great little turn of phrase for companies and individuals alike, especially during difficult economic times.  It means that the company is operating within its means and in keeping with revenues generated.  It’s long been standard accounting practice is to record positive numbers in black ink and negative numbers in red ink.

On January 28, 2001 the Toledo Blade published an article entitled, “A Debt To Repay” that addressed the subject of tax cuts and the U.S. national debt.  It read in part:

Despite a federal budget now operating in the black, the national debt now stands at $5.7 trillion (with a T).  The interest expense on the debt last year was $362 billion (with a B).  That means taxpayers put out more money in interest charges than they did for, say, national defense, which cost about $291 billion.

The Miami News ran a news story on April 15, 1960 about FM radio stations, most of which suffered considerably because of the television boom after World War II.  The article entitled, “FM Bouncing Back To Rival Sister AM” reported in part:

The number of independent FM stations has jumped past 100 “and most of the commercial stations are operating in the black,” Fogel said.  The FCC is being rushed with applications for new FM stations.

The Berkeley Daily Gazette ran a United Press story entitled, “Utilities Lead In New York Decline” on May 18, 1932 as the Great Depression hit its third year.  It stated quite simply:

Consolidated Oil was firm on a statement by Harry P. Sinclair, chairman of the board, that the company was now operating in the black.

Back on February 22, 1923 the Wall Street Journal ran a story about Matthew C. Brush, president of American International Corporation and his denial of reports that were being circulated at the time claiming that American International was trying to see one of its largest proprietary companies, G. Amsinck & Co. It stated in part:

But there is no reason why we should want to sell Amsinck The company is in better shape than in years.  It is operating in the black and negotiations are practically concluded with important interests in two South American countries which give every indication of being profitable in the future.

While some may claim that “in the black” and “in the red” were considered slang back in the day, the term “in the black” appears to have had sufficient legitimacy in proper English to be used by at least one company president being quoted in the Wall Street Journal in 1923.  Idiomation was unable, however, to find an earlier published version of the expression.

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