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“Call In Sick” Versus “Call Out Sick” (Versus “Call Off Sick”)

A reader asked about the phrase “to call out sick,” which I had never heard, so I suspected it is a regionalism. I posted a simple message on my Grammar Girl Facebook page asking people to let me know what the phrase is where they live, and I got an amazing 145+ responses in less than a day (with some people reporting on multiple regions where they  had lived or worked). I was inspired to compile it all into a map, which you will find below. (Ta da!)

Red = call in sick
Yellow = call out sick
Green = call off sick
Blue = mixed

Click the map to go to the larger, interactive Google map.


I noticed a few interesting things as I was entering the data:

  • “Calling out sick” seems to be most common in New York, New Jersey, and Florida, although it is heard in other places.
  • People in Texas all just said they live in Texas instead of giving me a city. That struck me as odd, since Texas is such a big state.
  • A few people noted that they had seen a difference between different companies in their city. It may be that corporate culture or traditions have as much to do with this as regional differences. [UPDATE 08/12/09: After reading your additional comments, I'm even more convinced corporate culture plays a part in this, although there are clearly regional differences too.]

If you haven’t contributed to the map yet, leave a comment and I’ll add a pin for you.

Remember, this is an unscientific survey that to date only includes people who were Grammar Girl fans on Facebook. It may have all kinds of biases! [Added 8/10/09, 11:25 am: As some people have noted, the way I originally asked the question could have skewed the responses too because it may have sounded like I only wanted  people to respond if they said "call out sick."]

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58 Comments so far (Add 1 more)

  1. Love the map too! “call in sick” would be the term used in Montana

    1. debruycker on October 4th, 2009 at 1:44 PM
  2. And either you have no followers in Montana and Wyoming, or they don’t get sick there.

    2. Mrs. Grobe on August 13th, 2009 at 6:09 PM
  3. Grew up in/live in: Brattleboro, Vermont
    Call in sick (cause you are “calling in” to the office)
    My husband and I both would say this. (He lived in Germany and Schenectady, NY with a mom who grew up in Schenectady.)

    3. Mrs. Grobe on August 13th, 2009 at 6:07 PM
  4. The company I work for uses the phrase, “call out sick.”
    I am in Scottsdale, Arizona; my company headquarters are on the east coast.

    4. Amy Taylor on August 13th, 2009 at 1:11 PM
  5. Call-in sick. Sorry I forgot my location last post, :-\

    Oakland, CA

    5. Julie Dobkin on August 13th, 2009 at 9:35 AM
  6. Call-in sick :-}

    6. Julie Dobkin on August 13th, 2009 at 9:32 AM
  7. Call In Sick
    Mackinac Island, Michigan

    7. Sheryl Baxter on August 13th, 2009 at 9:10 AM
  8. Call in sick.

    Tucson, AZ

    8. Kelly on August 13th, 2009 at 8:55 AM
  9. We “call in sick” in Columbus, Ohio. I grew up in Detroit, Michigan and they say the same thing. I’ve also heard some “call off sick” though too but never “call out sick.”

    9. Sarah on August 13th, 2009 at 8:55 AM
  10. Las Vegas, NV – Call in sick.

    10. Brittany on August 13th, 2009 at 8:46 AM
  11. Thanks! I’ve added pins to the map for everyone who left a comment with their location.

    11. Mignon on August 12th, 2009 at 8:58 AM
  12. Call out sick. New Jersey.

    12. katie on August 12th, 2009 at 8:15 AM
  13. Lakeland, FL
    Call in sick

    13. Joel on August 11th, 2009 at 4:53 AM
  14. Hello, all,
    I’m in the greater Washington, DC, area and have spent the last 10 years working in offices in DC, VA, and MD. We all “call in sick,” when we’re out of the office because of illness, but Jane is “out sick.” I suppose this is because we think of work as the place of referral; no one is “out sick” from home.

    Before moving to the DC area, I lived in 8 other states and three other countries and I’ve never heard the phrase “call out sick.” Come to think of it, I’ve never heard the phrase, “call off sick” either. Learn something new every day!

    14. Famin on August 11th, 2009 at 4:27 AM
  15. Call in sick.

    Independence, LA

    15. Amber on August 10th, 2009 at 8:28 PM
  16. There may be a difference in usage based on how the act occurs, not just on local idiom. It took me a LONG time to figure this out, but I suspect there’s much to it. Living in IL, I thought it BIZARRE that “calling out sick” was ever used around here. Sounds utterly foreign, like something people in Minnesota might say (sorry, too much “Fargo” influence!).

    But the ACT of “calling in” when one is ill is quite different from a co-worker who is “out sick.” Same idea but 2 different things. “Joe called in. He is out sick.”

    But to perform the act of “calling OUT sick” well … “I called. I am ‘out sick’ ” makes sense. “Calling out sick” sounds …. not traditional. Or maybe British …

    Beyond that, the map is seriously impressive.

    16. Shadowfax on August 10th, 2009 at 7:15 PM
  17. Yeah employees at Target “call out sick”. Weird…

    17. Georgie on August 10th, 2009 at 4:52 PM
  18. Independence, LA
    Call in sick


    18. Amber on August 10th, 2009 at 3:30 PM
  19. Pensacola, FL “Call in sick”

    same in Atlanta GA AFAIK

    19. Chelsey on August 10th, 2009 at 1:50 PM
  20. In Columbus, Mississippi, we say call in sick.

    20. kay jones on August 10th, 2009 at 1:47 PM
  21. Call in sick for me. I would say it’s what I learned in Halifax, NS on the far east coast of Canada. And I haven’t noticed people saying it differently in Toronto (central) and Vancouver (far west coast) where I’ve lived.

    21. wyn on August 10th, 2009 at 1:41 PM
  22. Call in sick
    From Salt Lake City, UT

    22. Jalaire on August 10th, 2009 at 1:29 PM
  23. Oops, forgot: from Ames, Iowa.

    23. Sherry on August 10th, 2009 at 1:04 PM
  24. I am from San Antonio Texas and had always said “call in” I moved to Philadelphia and they said “call out” and even tried to explain to me how it didn’t make sense to “call in” if you’re calling “out” of work. Either way, I didn’t go to work that day.

    24. meohmy on August 10th, 2009 at 1:03 PM
  25. We call “in” to the office to say we’re sick. I hadn’t heard of “call out” until Mignon’s twitter post.

    25. Sherry on August 10th, 2009 at 1:01 PM
  26. Though it’s rarely necessary for me, if I need to miss work I “call in sick.”

    Green Bay, WI

    26. Sandy on August 10th, 2009 at 12:31 PM
  27. Call in sick! I have never heard of the other frases. I am from Washington DC

    27. Rose on August 10th, 2009 at 12:24 PM
  28. “Call IN sick”. – Lima, OH

    I have never heard the other ones.

    28. Scott on August 10th, 2009 at 12:24 PM
  29. I’m from NYC and say/hear “call in sick.” However I used to work in theater, and when an actor was sick it was said that he “called out” of the show. Both versions make sense to me (in one, you’re calling in to say you’re sick; in the other, you’re calling to say you’ll be “out sick”) but I’ve only really heard “call in sick” as a full phrase.

    29. adam807 on August 10th, 2009 at 12:24 PM
  30. Like Zoe, I freelance, and would only be calling myself. But I’ve never heard anything other than “call in sick.” Saint Paul, Minnesota

    30. Amy on August 10th, 2009 at 12:12 PM
  31. In Reno, NV, I would call in sick if I still worked!

    31. Victoria on August 10th, 2009 at 12:02 PM
  32. Great map… love to see the regional variations. The pop/soda debate is one of my favorites –

    Call in sick
    Live in Dallas now, but same was true in Raleigh, Las Vegas and Chicago.

    32. Ian on August 10th, 2009 at 11:55 AM
  33. San Francisco, CA
    I’ve always heard that people call in sick.

    33. D. Heather Handley on August 10th, 2009 at 11:45 AM
  34. Call in sick. Joplin. Missouri

    34. Sarah Jane on August 10th, 2009 at 11:42 AM
  35. Originally from Kansas City, KS area; now living in San Antonio, TX (I give you my Texas city because THANK GOD I am not from Texas). I have always said “call in sick.” Why would one “call out” sick, unless they are shouting, “Hey, I’m sick! Stay Away!”

    35. Jeff on August 10th, 2009 at 11:41 AM
  36. I’m in Merrimack, New Hampshire. I say “in”. I’ve always heard it that way, and it seems odd when I hear “out”. In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever heard it that way, and I am 48 years old.

    36. Lorrieann on August 10th, 2009 at 11:39 AM
  37. I have lived in the Raleigh, NC area for 22 years, and in the South for my entire life (almost 50 years). I’ve always said (and heard other people say) “call in sick”. I wasn’t even aware of the other variations until now.

    37. Pat Berry on August 10th, 2009 at 11:39 AM
  38. I was raised in Brooksville, Florida where folks call in sick to work. The same phrase is used in Sunnyvale, California where I currently reside.

    38. Candice on August 10th, 2009 at 11:32 AM
  39. Not to be picky, but given the site, and the topic…

    Regarding the Texas reporting: it “stuck” you as odd? Not “struck”?

    P.S. As an Austin resident, I’d guess those Texans who didn’t specify a city were from less-regarded cities than mine. Poor, anonymous Houstonians & Dallasites. ;-)

    39. Chris on August 10th, 2009 at 11:30 AM
  40. Ok, I’ll try to be more specific since I’m from Texas.

    Houston, TX
    Call in sick!

    40. Shirley on August 10th, 2009 at 11:29 AM
  41. I live in Lansing, Michigan and I “call in sick” when necessary. I’ve never heard of “call out sick” before today!

    41. Sandi on August 10th, 2009 at 11:25 AM
  42. I call in sick (very upstate NY). A local regionalism, especially prevalent among corrections officers: to “bang in,” meaning to call in sick when you’re not sick at all.

    42. Beth on August 10th, 2009 at 11:24 AM
  43. For me, it’s call out sick.

    I live now in Kelowna, BC (Canada), but I have lived and worked in Chicago, IL, Commack, NY, San Francisco, CA, and San Jose, CA. In SF, I had people working for me, and they all called out sick. (Though thankfully not all at once.)

    In San Jose, I worked for a company with corporate headquarters in Kansas City, KS and division headquarters in Atlanta, GA. It was call out sick no matter where we had to call.

    Here in Kelowna, I work for myself, so there’s no calling in/out/off sick; I just get on with it or else I stay in bed.

    Thanks for this poll and for the map. It’s fun.

    43. catester on August 10th, 2009 at 11:24 AM
  44. Here in Britain, I’ve only ever heard ‘call in sick’. Google throws up quite a few examples of ‘call out sick’ and ‘call off sick’ for UK sites though. I have a gut feeling (but no evidence) that the latter is more commonly used in non-work-related contexts, eg when cancelling plans with friends.

    44. JD (The Engine Room) on August 10th, 2009 at 11:23 AM
  45. I “Call IN sick” when I “Call OFF Work” I use these two terms most often I switch back and forth between the two sometimes during hte same conversation while calling off.

    Not sure which Loc you’re aiming for so
    Live Kingsford Heights IN (Grew up in Crown Point, IN)
    Work Chicago, IL

    45. rasplundjr on August 10th, 2009 at 11:23 AM
  46. Whoops. I mistyped my name in my comment (Aarib), but my vote still stands.

    46. Aaron on August 10th, 2009 at 11:20 AM
  47. I say call in sick – I’m in Holyoke, MA. But where I work now (big box store), people call out. Not call out sick, just call out. Maybe because the corporate HQ is in Minneapolis, I’ve no idea.

    47. Major Bedhead on August 10th, 2009 at 11:20 AM
  48. When I was working in an office in Cedar Rapids, IA, I only heard “call in sick.”

    48. Aarib on August 10th, 2009 at 11:20 AM
  49. *That struck me as odd

    49. K on August 10th, 2009 at 11:19 AM
  50. I’ve never heard “call out sick” before! I’ve always used the phrase “call in sick.”

    50. Sheila Lewis on August 10th, 2009 at 11:19 AM
  51. I say “phone in sick”. I live in Lethbridge, Alberta.

    51. Kim Siever on August 10th, 2009 at 11:19 AM
  52. From suburb of Chicago: Call “in” sick. (Although luckily, I’m pretty healthy and never had to use either expressions!)

    52. Barbara on August 10th, 2009 at 11:19 AM
  53. I “call in sick” because I am placing a call in to work. I have always used “call in sick” and I am originally a New Yorker (28 years) though now an Oregonian (10 years). I am actually surprised to see NY listed as “call out” cause this is the first I’ve heard someone use that. Maybe I missed a lot in the last decade.

    53. Sage on August 10th, 2009 at 11:19 AM
  54. I alternate between “call out” and “call in sick.” I lived most of my life in the Marshall Islands, but have resided in Las Vegas, NV for 5 years now. My mom, who is from Connecticut but has lived in many different places around the U.S., thinks “call in sick” sounds weird. She says you’re calling because you’ll be “out,” so it doesn’t make sense to say “in.”

    54. Veronica on August 10th, 2009 at 11:18 AM
  55. I’ve never heard “call out sick.” I’ve always used the phrase “call in sick.”

    55. Sheila Lewis on August 10th, 2009 at 11:18 AM
  56. I say “call in sick” or “call out of work,” but generally not “call out sick.” I live in Baltimore, MD, but grew up in Wisconsin and Connecticut so I’m not really sure where that puts me.

    56. DDog on August 10th, 2009 at 11:15 AM
  57. Love the map.
    I live in Durham NC, but have lived in Phila, Delaware, Tampa, and Paris. I’ve never heard anything but “call in sick.” Of course, as a freelancer, I don’t use any of the terms listed!

    57. Zoe Voigt on August 10th, 2009 at 11:14 AM
  58. Phoenix, AZ
    Call in sick

    58. Michel on August 10th, 2009 at 11:13 AM