In The Red – Meaning and Origin


The phrase in the red is an idiom that means a person or business is losing money. It can also mean being in debt.

Example: Susie is in the line of selling natural home cleaning products. She has made money for years doing this, but for the past few months, she has been in the red. (In other words, her business did not turn a profit the past few months; she lost money.
Synonyms / Related Phrases:
1. At a loss
2. In debt
3. In the hole

The Origin Of ‘In The Red’

Banks and businesses commonly use red ink to signify a financial loss. This phrase is thus believed to come from this practice. Okay, so how old is this expression? It might have originated sometime during the early 1900s because there are several newspapers from that time period using it. For example, in the Daily Globe newspaper from the year 1927, under the subheading ‘Failed to get Interest,’ it reads:

“I regret to report to you that the people who put money into it failed by $30,000 to earn even operating expense and depreciation. The company is in the red all the time.”

As you can see from the quote, this saying has the same meaning that it does today—it indicates a loss of money.

Example Sentences

  • James expected that his new furniture company would be operating in the red at the beginning, but he hoped that business would pick up in the following months.

Note: The origins for some, or even many phrases and sayings cannot be said with a certainty. In such cases, an explanation talking about its possible origin might be listed on the page. Or maybe no explanation will be given. In that case, a quote of the expression should still be listed, and these are typically the earliest known appearance of the phrase in print (that I know of, anyway).

Sharing is caring!