Clock In and Clock Out

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Punch in
Punch out

Meaning of Idioms 'Clock In' and 'Clock Out'

To clock in is to record your time of arrival at work, usually by punching a time clock; to begin work.

To clock out is to record your time of departure from work; to end work. 1, 2


Although this idiom often refers literally to punching a time clock, this idiom can be used figuratively to mean beginning and ending work.


"I always clock in at nine o'clock on the dot. The one time I punched in five minutes late, my boss threw a fit."

"I forgot to clock out yesterday. We both left work together so can you vouch for me?"

"I get paid a salary. It doesn't really matter when I clock in and out, as long as I get my work done."


Since the late 1800's time clocks have been used to record the time workers arrive at and leave work. These clocks are special timers that punch a time on a card when it is inserted into a slot, hence the idiom 'punch a clock.' When one arrives at work, they use the time clock to 'punch in' to work and they 'punch out' when they leave. This allows the employers who pay workers an hourly wage to precisely track the amount of time each employee works. 2

1. Spears, Richard A. McGraw-Hill's American Idioms Dictionary. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008.
2. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

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