In The Red – Meaning and Origin


Losing money or being in debt.

Example: Susie was out shopping and a fancy red coat caught her eyes. She wanted to buy it, but it’s just too expensive. Susie remembered that she was in the red this month, so she’ll have to wait until next time.

In other words, she was in debt and thus could not afford to buy the fancy coat.

Synonyms / Related Phrases:
In dire straits
At a loss
In the hole

The Origin Of ‘In The Red’

It’s believed that this phrase originates from the practice of using red ink to signify a financial loss. Thus, a business that is “in the red,” is a company that is losing money.

It’s possible that this phrase originates sometime during the early 1900s, as there are numerous newspapers from that period of time that use the phrase when referring to businesses functioning at a loss. 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.”

Example Sentences

  1. James created a furniture company knowing ahead of time that he’d be working in the red, but he hopes business will pick up in the following months so he can start turning a profit.

Note: The origins for most phrases and sayings cannot be said with a certainty. What’s provided are theories that may be plausible to how a phrase originated, but not necessarily so. 
In addition, quotes that contain a particular phrase may be taken from old newspapers, poems, or books that were written centuries ago, but this by no means confirms that the phrase originates from said newspapers, poems, or books. In all likelihood, if an expression is being used in a newspaper, it’s probably already a well known saying and is from an older time.

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