In the red and in the black

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In the red and in the black are two idioms that first appear around the turn of the twentieth century. We will examine the definitions of the phrases in the red and in the black, where the terms came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

In the red describes being in debt or losing money. As with many idioms, this term has its roots in a literal meaning. At the turn of the twentieth century, accountants often used red ink when recording business losses. Soon, businesses that were losing money were referred to as being in the red. 

In the black describes being solvent or accumulating money, it is the opposite of the term in the red. In the black is another phrase with a figurative meaning that has evolved from a literal meaning.


Investors came back from the weekend in a ho-hum mood Monday, as many well-known local companies’ shares finished in the red, but a few notable names ended the day’s trading in positive territory. (The Mercury News)

Council member Mike Gaskill said as of May 10, the health fund was showing a negative balance and is currently in the red by $47,000. (The Herald Bulletin)

The town of Gene Autry approved its $42,000 budget in a unanimous council vote ending the fiscal year and beginning the next in the black. (The Daily Ardmoreite)

For the third straight year, East Jordan city officials are expecting to finish the fiscal year with the budget in the black and are anticipating being in the same position this time next year. (The Petoskey News-Review)