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 sells natural home cleaning products on her website. She has made money from this for years, but lately, she has been in the red. (In other words, her business has not been turning a profit lately; she has been losing money.

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 his furniture company to be operating in the red during its first few months, but he hopes to gain a profit after that initial period.

Similar Example:

  • We are in the hole this month financially speaking, but I think that will change with my new job.

Note: The origins for some, or even many phrases and sayings cannot be said with a certainty. In such cases, an explanation that talks about its possible origin might be listed on the page. Or, if not that, a quote containing the expression will be listed. These quotations are typically the earliest known appearance of the phrase in print (that I know of).