Phoning It In or Phone It In – Idiom, Origin & Meaning

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Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

We use the expression “phoning it in” to describe a lack of effort or enthusiasm given when performing something or doing important work. But where did the saying come from, and are you even using it the way it is meant to be used? I’ll explain all the details about this phrase right here in this guide!

Phone It in Meaning

Phoning It In or Phone It In Idiom Origin Meaning

When someone is accused of “phoning it in,” it means they’re not putting in their best effort, and it shows. It’s mostly used to describe people just moving through the basic motions without real passion or energy.

Right off the bat, I think back to my high school days. I was a straight-A student in almost all my courses except for math. I despised math because I had a literary brain. So, whenever I had tests or assignments, I did the bare minimum just to get by. I definitely “phoned it in” when it came to math.

Is It Phone It in or Phoning It In?

The phrase “phoning it in” is the correct way to say it. But you can use “phone it in” for present-tense situations. Here, I’ll show two examples.

  • I’m just phoning it in with this assignment.
  • I don’t want to do this assignment. Should I just phone it in?

“Phoning It In” Origin and Etymology

The roots of “phoning it in” can be linked to the world of journalism and came about in the 1930s. Busy journalists are constantly chasing the next big story and don’t always have time to sit down and write up a full article. So, instead, they’d phone their editor and tell them the story over the phone, aka phone it in.

Other sources state that it came from the world of acting and theater. During the early 1930s, a popular joke among theater actors alluded to having a role so small that it was possible to call on the phone rather than appear on the stage in person.

Is There Another Way to Say “Phoning It In”?

  • Going through the motions
  • Doing the bare minimum
  • Half-hearted effort
  • Lackluster performance
  • Slacking off
  • Mailing it in
  • Coasting
  • Going on autopilot
  • Clocking in and out
  • Marking time

“Phoning It In” Examples in a Sentence

Phoning It In or Phone It In Idiom Origin Meaning 1
  • I can tell that John didn’t prepare for the presentation at all; he’s just phoning it in at this point.
  • They’re my favorite band, but their recent performance was lackluster, and it seemed like they were just phoning it in.
  • Our history teacher is usually very engaged in class, but today, she seemed to be phoning it in, like something was bothering her.
  • I hate it when people just phone in their work instead of putting in effort and producing quality results. It makes me think I shouldn’t bother working as hard as I do.
  • Listen, your performance was subpar, and it felt like you were just phoning it in instead of fully committing to the role, so we’re going to pass.

Just Put in the Work

When it comes to working, doing a project, or anything in general that requires effort from you, always give it your all and never phone it in. At least now, with these tips, you know what the phrase really means and how you can use it.