Sunday 19 August 2007

Phrase of the Day 136 'in the red'

"to be in the red"

definition: to be losing money.

example: Putting kids through university is sure to put you in the red.

origin: Standard practice for accounting is to record positive numbers in black ink and negative numbers in red ink. Operating "in the red" is to record negative numbers, that is to say losses.

No doubt red ink was chosen because it is a clear contrast for black and is not easily mistaken. However there is a bit more history to the red ink.

In medieval times the church, being the only center of literacy and learning in the west, maintained meticulous accounting records. Ink was rare and expensive. When monasteries and far-flung churches had little money and they could not afford ink, domesticated animals were bled to provide a substitute in the dipping wells. As a result, poor financial records were usually written "in the red."

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