Understanding the Idiom: "out of order" - Meaning, Origins, and Usage

Idiom language: English

Origins and Historical Context of the Idiom “out of order”

The Origins of “Out of Order”

The exact origin of the phrase “out of order” is unclear, but it can be traced back to at least the 18th century. It was originally used in legal contexts to describe a court proceeding that was not following proper protocol or procedure. Over time, the meaning expanded to include any situation where things were not working as they should be.

The Historical Context

During the Industrial Revolution in England, machines became an essential part of daily life. When these machines broke down or malfunctioned, they were said to be “out of order.” This terminology quickly spread beyond factories and into everyday language.

Today, we use “out of order” to describe anything from a broken vending machine to a dysfunctional government agency. Understanding its historical context helps us appreciate how language evolves over time and how idioms become embedded in our culture.

Usage and Variations of the Idiom “out of order”

When it comes to idioms, there are often variations in usage that can add nuance or meaning to a phrase. The idiom “out of order” is no exception, as it can be used in a variety of ways depending on the context and speaker.

One common variation is using “out of sorts” instead of “out of order.” This version implies that someone is feeling unwell or not quite themselves, rather than referring to a broken machine or system. Another variation is adding an adjective before “order,” such as “completely out of order” or “totally out of order,” which emphasizes the severity or extent of the problem.

In addition to these variations, there are also different ways to use the idiom depending on the situation. For example, someone might say that a meeting was “out of order” if it didn’t follow proper protocol or agenda. On the other hand, if a vending machine isn’t working properly, someone might say that it’s “out of order.”

Variation Meaning
“Out of sorts” Feeling unwell or not oneself
“Completely out of order” Emphasizes severity/extensiveness
“Meeting was out of order” Didn’t follow proper protocol/agenda
“Vending machine is out of order” Not working properly

Synonyms, Antonyms, and Cultural Insights for the Idiom “out of order”

When something is not functioning correctly or is broken, we often use the idiom “out of order” to describe it. However, there are several other phrases that convey a similar meaning. For instance, you could say that something is malfunctioning, not working properly, or defective instead of using “out of order”. On the other hand, if something is functioning well or as expected, you could use phrases like in good working condition or up and running.

In some cultures and contexts, using idioms may be more common than others. For example, in American English slang culture, people might use phrases like “on the fritz” or “kaput” instead of saying “out of order”. Similarly in British English slang culture one might hear expressions such as “knackered” or “buggered”. It’s important to understand these cultural nuances when communicating with people from different backgrounds.

Furthermore, understanding antonyms for an idiom can also help expand your vocabulary. The opposite of being out-of-order would be being functional or operational. By learning these opposing terms you will have a better grasp on how to express yourself clearly and concisely.

Practical Exercises for the Idiom “out of order”

Exercise 1: Fill in the Blank

In this exercise, you will fill in the blank with the correct form of “out of order” to complete each sentence.

Example: The elevator is _____________. We’ll have to take the stairs.

Answer: out of order

1. The printer is _____________ again. I think we need a new one.

2. Sorry, our credit card machine is currently _______________.

3. The water fountain on this floor is always _______________.

4. My phone’s touch screen is completely ________________. I need to get it fixed soon.

Exercise 2: Create Your Own Sentences

In this exercise, you will create your own sentences using the idiom “out of order”. Try to come up with at least five original sentences that demonstrate your understanding and usage of the idiom.


– The vending machine was out of order so I had to go find another one.

1. The escalator at the mall was ________, so we had to walk up all those stairs!

2. Our coffee maker has been _________ for days now – I really miss my morning cuppa joe!

3. Unfortunately, my laptop seems to be _________ today – it keeps freezing every few minutes.

4. The ATM outside my bank was _________ when I went there yesterday – what a pain!

5. When we arrived at our hotel room, we discovered that our TV was completely _________.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Using the Idiom “out of order”

When it comes to using idioms in English, it’s important to understand their meanings and usage. The idiom “out of order” is no exception. While this phrase may seem straightforward, there are several common mistakes that people make when using it.

One mistake is using “out of order” to describe something that is simply broken or not functioning properly. While this can be a correct usage, the idiom actually refers to something that is not following the expected or usual sequence or pattern.

Another mistake is assuming that “out of order” can only be used in formal situations. This idiom can actually be used in both formal and informal contexts, depending on the situation and tone.

A third mistake is overusing the idiom without providing enough context for its meaning. It’s important to provide enough information for listeners or readers to understand why something is considered “out of order.”

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