Phone it in

Phone it in is a verbal phrase and an idiom. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beat around the bush, cut the mustard, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, ankle biter, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom phone it in, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

To phone it in means to make the least effort possible, to do something without enthusiasm. The expression phone it in is American, and seems to have originally been connected to the theater and acting. During the early 1930s, a popular joke among theater actors alluded to having a role that was so small it was possible to call on the phone, rather than appear on the stage in person. Phone is an abbreviation for telephone. The idiom soon migrated into common usage, its popularity peaking in the 1990s. Perhaps the advent of the cell phone and texting has made the idiom phone it in not quite as relevant. Related phrases are phones it in, phoned it in, phoning it in.


I really do work on being in the moment, and I definitely don’t phone it in. (The Las Vegas Weekly)

At his core, Krampus was meant to give children incentive to actually be nice all year rather than just phone it in and collect presents on Dec. 25. (The International Business Times)

Miley’s umpteenth go-round was refreshingly understated, but this was Cardi’s first, so it’s thrilling that she didn’t phone it in: This is a lot of dress, and it makes a big splash, but no less than she herself has made on the music scene.  (Cosmopolitan Magazine)

Your recommendation, the network that you build, and also your integrity — these are all reasons not to phone it in.  (Forbes Magazine)

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