phone tag

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phone + tag (children's game)


phone tag (uncountable)

  1. (idiomatic) A situation in which two individuals attempting to contact each other by telephone repeatedly do not get a live person and instead trade messages, such as by voice mail.
    • 2000, Sharon MacDonald, Gilbert Cockton, People and Computers XIV - Usability Or Else!: Proceedings of HCI 2000:
      "What frequently results is a game of phone tag. One party tries to reach another, is unable to, and leaves voice-mail indicating an interest in finding a time to meet. The other party returns the call, more often than not fails to reach the original caller, and leaves voice-mail in response."
    • 2005, Dorothy A. Maxwell, Phone Skills for the Information Age:
      "Avoid phone tag, which results when two parties go back and forth trying to reach each other by phone."
    • 2006, Steven Fishman, Working for Yourself: Law & Taxes for Independent Contractors, Freelancers & Consultants:
      "To reduce the time you spend playing phone tag, ask what time the client will be in and call back then."

Usage notes[edit]

In keeping with the origin of this term in the game of tag, being in this situation is often referred to as playing phone tag.