phone it in (phoned, phoning)

Thomas Tompion

Member Emeritus
English - England
Living as I do in increasing cultural and geographical isolation, I need to work hard to keep my vocabulary up to date if I am to continue to understand spoken English. This morning a member said that someone called John was 'just phoning it in'. What does this expression mean? Does any one know how long it has been current? I left the UK in 2002 and I'd never heard it then, but that doesn't mean much.

<< Later edit: See also >> it in (phone, phoning)
You phoned it in
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  • I suppose it means "pretends" (probably comes from "phoney"?) --note to self: never assume

    ... found it in the Urban Dictionary:

    Phone it in
    Perform an act in a perfunctory, uncommitted fashion, as if it didn't matter.
    She sang the National Anthem, but she was just phoning it in as far as I could tell.
    Hmmm... not exactly the same as what I thought.

    EDIT: Is it AE slang, Nunty?
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    Unlike Thomas, I've been in the UK since 2002, yet this expression made no sense to me either. I suspect it is AE (Urban Dictionary is a US site) but I also suspect we in the UK will adopt it before long.
    I suspect it is AE. I'm not sure where I heard it.

    I don't think it comes from "phoney" but rather from the idea of making a phone call have something done rather than doing it oneself, or maybe from the idea of newspaper reporters "phoning in" a breaking story rather than sitting down and writing it, checking facts and grammar, and so on.
    "Phoning it in" is a common American expression. It means to make only a minimal or inadequate effort. You don't bother to actually come to the office, you just "phone in" your work. It has nothing to do with "Phoney".

    Here's one explanation of this apparently AE term.

    And I agree with Mr._Antares. It's a very familiar term over here.

    Think of a singer who goes onstage and really puts no effort into his performance. He may be there physically, but he's just phoning it in.

    I've come across the phrase a good few times, Mr.T, always in print, only in one specific context, that of 'mechanical' performances by actors in films:
    Mr.X's heart doesn't seem to be in his performance: in fact he more or less phones it in.

    (I've no idea how much the phrase has caught on in the UK yet: though I read quite a lot of film reviews, I never pay any attention to who's writing them.)
    Ah well. Is it an expression then? I'm just 'phoning it in' is naturral language.

    "Have you given them the message yet?"
    "No, but I am 'phoning it in now".