The governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, has been missing since Thursday ("SC governor's whereabouts unknown, even to wife", Associated Press, 6/22/2008). The linguistic hook here is the way that his spokesman, Joel Sawyer, described his status ("Have you see [sic] this man? SC GOV, MIA", MSNC, 6/22/2009):
The governor put in a lot of time during this last legislative session, and after the session winds down it's not uncommon for him to go out of pocket for a few days at a time to clear his head. Obviously, that's going to be somewhat out of the question this time given the attention this particular absence has gotten. [emphasis added]
I'm used to seeing "out of pocket" used to mean something like "expenses incurred without reimbursement", but not what what Mr. Sawyer clearly meant in this case, namely "out of reach, absent, unavailable". The same phrase was also used by another local political figure, quoted in the NY Daily News ("AWOL South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford has entire state in a tizzy", 6/22/2009):
"The governor needs to be available to the people. He doesn't have to give the world his mobile number, but he's got to be where he can be contacted," said state Sen. Jake Knotts.
"Nobody knows where he is. He's out of pocket. They've been looking for him since Thursday." [emphasis added]
But this is not, as I first thought, a malapropistic cliché, or perhaps a development from the idea of a football quarterback scrambling "out of the pocket" – the OED gives the gloss "out of reach, absent, unavailable", with citations going back a century:
1908 ‘O. HENRY’ Buried Treasure in Ainslee's July 69/2 Just now she is out of pocket. And I shall find her as soon as I can.
1974 Anderson (S. Carolina) Independent 20 Apr. 1A/1 If you..have ever been sick and the only doctor is out of pocket for the weekend, then you know we need more doctors.
2002 A. PHILLIPS Prague III. viii. 229 Five-day weekend for me, Charlie, starting in eighteen minutes. I'll be out of pocket until Tuesday.
O. Henry (William Sidney Porter) was born and raised in Greensboro NC, but Arthur Phillips is from Minnesota. Anyhow, whatever the geographical origins, I kind of like the idea of being "out of pocket", and perhaps I should try it myself.
[Update 6/23/2009 -- now that the his spokeperson's Nth story is that Gov. Sanford has been spending the past few days out hiking on the Appalachian trail, there's a good chance that a new idiom has been born. ]
[6/24/2009: The (N+1)th story is that he went for a drive in Argentina. ]
[And the (N+2)th story is that he spent a week in Buenos Aires breaking up with his Argentine girlfriend. ]