When did "Reach Out" become synonymous with "Contact"?

And does anyone else think it sounds just a little bit creepy?

How longs has this been going on? Using “reach out” as another way of saying “e-mail” or “call” or “contact” seems to be ubiquitous now. This morning I heard yet another coworker say that she was going to “reach out” to another department for some information. I even heard the phrase on the last episode of Southland last week, for chrissakes, so I guess it’s officially standard usage now.

I’m the last person to champion prescriptive grammar, but it just sounds kind of glurgy, new agey, and feely-meeley. When someone reaches out to someone, I picture them inviting a shut-in for a cup of tea and a shoulder to cry on.

Apparently I’m not the only one.

I remember hearing it in the (late?) 1990s on shows like NYPD Blues. I specifically remember Rick Schroder’s character say it leading up to his demise on the show.

Professionally, I started hearing it when working for a client who was producing HR/workplace health stuff (ETA: circa 2001). From what I remember, context suggested it evolved from “outreach” as in “community outreach programs”. We started seeing a verb, “outreaching”, and the proofreader wasn’t sure whether or not to change it to “reaching out”, but the client assured us it was industry jargon. We did see “outreaching” a commonly after than in the early to mid-2000s.

Currently, I’d say 90% of the time that we hear “reaching out”, it’s from the same industry (HR, psychology, and community health). I almost always hear it in a social need context of some kind. For example, if I wanted to contact an old buddy of mine from baseball, I’d probably say “Yeah, I touched base with Dude Guy.” If I got divorced and needed to rekindle old friendships because I was sad, I would be “reaching out to Dude Guy.”

Upon hearing I told off my boss, my buddy said: “Good to see you finally had the stones to say something”. Whereas someone from the reaching-out industry said: “Good for you for advocating for yourself!” It was like back in the day when people started saying “we should dialog sometime” when they meant they needed to talk about something.

I blame the same people who brought “think outside the box” into common vernacular. I find it a touch annoying too.

I think it might have started, or gained in popularity at least, with those “Reach out and touch someone” phone commercials in the 1980s.

I blame “outreach” programs and people who run non-profits. They’re always partnering and inviting people to be a part of the conversation. This last I hate irrationally. No one can talk about a problem, we have to “include all stakeholders in the conversation.” No one can work on an issue, we have to “remember to keep it in the forefront of the conversation.” :rolleyes:


“Reach out” has only become [del]obnoxious[/del] ubiquitous in the last two or three years, however deep its roots may be.

Yeah, I’d say starting around 2009 is when I started seeing it in non-HR/health stuff. Like some nasty virus that broke containment.

Maybe that’s when it found its way into marketing copy. Once advertizers got ahold if it, it was like a nasty case of the clap and a two-bit whore.

The author Robert Daley who writes NYPD procedurals was using it as vernacular to the police in the late 60’s or early 70’s.

That was the original context–social need situations. The Meals on Wheels program would reach out to area seniors. You’d reach out to an old friend if you were feeling depressed.

That may be where you’re still hearing it, but I assure you, it has mutated way beyond that. Nowadays people are reaching out to the Finance Department to get new overhead numbers. It’s a plague.

Sorry, I should have been more specific… Actually it looks like I also dropped a sentence in that one post… To clarify, I used to hear it almost exclusively in social need scenarios, which is where it came from. But 90% of the time I hear it now, it still mostly from HR/health people, but they are using it in non-industry related contexts. I’m hearing the return-to-work specialist say: “Hey, I just reached out to the bowling alley and reserved us a lane.”

In the corporate world, yes, it’s taken on a ridiculous life of it’s own, but with our corporate clients, I still hear it mostly from people who are either in the “soft sciences” or else their degrees of Kevin Bacon are only one or two away from someone in the soft sciences.

For example, the payroll accountant still barks: “Call Donald and tell him to fax me that damn expense report.” But the accounting manager who has taken leadership training, to improve his team-building and motivational skills, so he can foster a culture of inclusiveness in his department will bark: “Reach out to Donald to tell him to fax us the damn expense report”.

Our corporate client base is presently split between finance executives and HR/non-profit organizations. Most of the “reaching out”, “advocating for yourself” abuses comes from the HR types. The senior finance people (and “old boys club” guys) don’t ahve time to mince words.

But maybe this plague hasn’t affected our upper-end clients as quickly as the pandemic is spreading state-side. “Stakeholder buy-in” however, has spread rampantly throughout our entire client base.

Hey, guess what–just five minutes ago one popped into my in-box. Some woman reached out to my department to nominate people for employee recognition awards.


Well, a lot of songs in the 60s used it. Reach Out (I’ll Be There) by the Four Tops. Or Reach Out of the Darkness by Friend and Lover.

I guess everything “bad” happened in the 60s?