Out of sorts

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Out of sorts is an English phrase of uncertain origin. We will examine the meaning of the expression out of sorts, some possible sources of origin and some examples of its use in sentences.

Out of sorts means feeling irritable, upset or unwell. Most commonly, the origin of the term out of sorts is attributed to typesetting. As this theory goes, the phrase refers to the individual metal type called sorts that printers used. These sorts would be stored in their individual compartments. If the sorts were in short supply or stored in the wrong compartments, then the printer was out of sorts. However, the term out of sorts was recorded long before the printing press. A more intriguing theory involves the original meaning of the word sort. The Latin word, sortem, means destiny, condition or category. This definition may find its survival in the term out of sorts, which refers to a person’s condition. When used as an adjective before a noun, the term is hyphenated as in out-of-sorts.


However, Carey was out of sorts when Argyle began their League One campaign and slid towards the bottom of the table. (The Plymouth Herald)

Lone Peak’s offense was out of sorts from the start as the Titans’ Colby Manley picked off quarterback Frankie Starz and returned it 18 yards for the first touchdown. (The Bozeman Daily Chronicle)

“He didn’t want to be touched, was very disorientated and very out of sorts.” (The Yorkshire Evening Post)

Out-of-sorts front-man Johnstone, who has struggled to cement a place in the U’s starting line-up since his arrival last summer, has been attracting the attention of both St Johnstone and Dundee, north of the border. (The East Anglian Daily Times)


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