Run Out the Clock – 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.

I’m sure you’ve at least heard the phrase run out the clock in your life. But do you know what it means? We all have a vague understanding to deduce from its face value, but let’s unpack some deeper context surrounding the expression so you know you’re using it correctly.

The Run Out the Clock Situation: Meaning Explained

Run Out the Clock Origin Meaning

In the grand game of life and sports, run out the clock is a phrase used all the time. But it’s not about waiting for a timepiece to stop working. It describes a strategic move to use as much time as possible to maintain a winning position, usually by delaying the opposition from taking action.

In the world of sports, this could mean keeping the ball in your possession to prevent the other team from scoring. In broader usage, it could be used to describe delaying tasks or conversations to avoid potential change or confrontation.

It makes me think of that meme where the husband says, “My wife said she needs to talk to me about something serious, so I told her as soon as I’m done cleaning the floors,” and then it shows him on his knees scrubbing the floors with a toothbrush. He’s literally running out the clock to avoid having the conversation with his wife.

Origin and Etymology Behind Run Out the Clock

The phrase originated in sports, obviously, particularly American football, in the late 19th century. The lead team would try to run the time off the game clock to secure a win. Now, the phrase has sprinted into various walks of life, used wherever there’s a deadline or ticking clock.

Other Ways to Say It

There are other ways to express this time-ticking concept. You might hear phrases like the clock is running out, which means there’s limited time left to achieve something, or the clock’s run out, indicating the deadline has been passed, or the opportunity has been missed.

Synonyms for Run Out the Clock

Who doesn’t love a good synonym? Variety, after all, is the spice of language. Try some alternatives to keep your vocab fresh.

  • Stall for time
  • Delay the game
  • Play for time
  • Beat the clock
  • Kill time

Run Out the Clock Examples in a Sentence

Run Out the Clock Origin Meaning 1
  • The defense lawyer tried to run out the clock with lengthy closing arguments, but he wasn’t fooling the jury.
  • The leading team chose to run out the clock by retaining possession in the final minutes.
  • I think he’s just trying to run out the clock until retirement, doing the bare minimum at work.
  • When the clock is running out, it’s time to take decisive action.

Tick-Tock Boom

And that’s how we run out the clock on another grammar guide! Now you can use this phrase confidently, whether you’re strategically playing a game or waiting for the 5 o’clock whistle. Remember, time waits for no man, but understanding these phrases helps us keep up!

Enjoyed reading about this idiom? Check out some others we covered: