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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The history of the idioms “in the black” and “in the red”

Idioms: "in the black" and "in the red"; used as adjectives

Usually when accountants (people who work managing money) write down the amount of money they have available, they use a black pen to write the amount if they have enough money and a red pen to write the amount if they don’t have enough money or owe that amount. Some accounting computer programs also use black and red to indicate that. Read the following dialogue and see if you can guess the meaning of “in the black” and “in the red”:

Example Dialogue
Regina: Hey, Mark! Do you want to go to Disneyland with us next weekend?
Mark: I would love to go, Regina, but I am in the red ! I have to save money. Maybe next time… Thank you!
Regina: Well, I have good news! My sister sent me a $500.00 check for my 21st birthday! I am in the black now and I would be happy to pay for your ticket!
Mark: But, Regina… I have no idea when I’ll be in the black again to pay you back!
Regina: Please don’t worry about it, Mark… You are my best friend! I like you very much… I really, really like you… a lot!
Mark: Wow, thank you. I’ll accept your offer if you let me take you out on a date when I am not in the red anymore. What do you think?
Regina: YES! YES! Sure…

Meaning: As you probably noticed, being “in the black” means having enough money, and being “in the red” means not having enough money or owing money.

These idioms are from LSI's book Speaking Savvy, which is used in the level 5 listening and speaking classes. For more information, please visit

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