‘Clocking In’: Definition, Meaning, and Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on January 27, 2023

Did you hear someone use the phrase ‘clocking in,’ and you’re not sure what it means? What is the definition, and where does this expression come from?

‘Clocking in’ is used to describe a person marking their arrival at work, either literally on a time clock or figuratively by simply beginning to work. It can also refer to reaching a certain speed, such as a car ‘clocking in’ at 200 mph.

What Does 'Clocking In' Mean?

‘Clocking in’ is a phrase that is used to describe marking one’s arrival at work, such as on a time clock. A time clock is a device that stamps the time that an employee arrived and departed from work on a timecard or records this information digitally.

You might see the phrase written as ‘clocking in,’ or there can also be a pronoun or a noun used between ‘clocking’ and ‘in.’ For example, if your coworker wants you to sign them into work for you, they might say, “would you mind ‘clocking me in’?”

The phrase can be used to describe the actual act of recording the time that a person arrives at work or it can be more figuratively used to describe the act of beginning work. The opposite of ‘clocking in’ is ‘clocking out,’ which means recording the time you are finished working for the day or simply being done with work for the day.

‘Clocking in’ can also mean competing in a competition or a task within a certain period of time, as well as reaching a certain speed.

Where Does 'Clocking In' Come From?

The phrase ‘clocking in’ is said to date back to 1914 with the meaning of “register one’s arrival by means of a mechanical device with a clock.” Other sources claim that the phrase is a bit older, from the late 1800s.

Back in the late 1800s, the first time clock was invented by Willard L. Bundy in Auburn, NY. In 1888, his invention received a U.S. patent. The device worked by having each employee insert their own key recorder into the machine.

A decade after the patent was first issued, nearly 9,000-time recorder machines had been produced. Several major railroad companies at the time and the United States Postal Service had accounts with the Bundy Manufacturing Recording Company of Binghamton, NY, which was started by Willard and his brother Harlow.

The time clock continued to evolve over the decades, and businesses still use time clocks to record the start and end times for hourly or flexi-time employees. That being said, technology has changed dramatically since the late 19th century. Time clocks started to move away from being mechanical in nature and toward being electronic and computer-based in the late 20th century.

In more recent times, the same technology used in phones and tablets have been adopted by time clock producers. These time clocks have full-color displays, wireless networking, real-time monitoring, multi-touch screens, and more.

People have been ‘clocking in’ to work for more than one hundred years, and the phrase is still common to this day. All of this is despite the way that technology has radically changed over time.

Examples of 'Clocking In' In Sentences

How would you use ‘clocking in’ in a sentence? Let’s look at some examples:

  • “She’s always clocking in late at the office, and the boss is starting to notice.”
  • “Is it unethical that after clocking in, I always take about 30 minutes to drink my coffee and read the news?”
  • “The fastest car in the world clocked in at a whopping 304 miles per hour.”
  • “John said that you clocked in at 12:30 today. Weren’t you supposed to be here at noon?”
  • “I absolutely hate clocking in late, so I leave fifteen minutes early in case I get stuck in traffic.”
  • “Our new manager is the bane of my existence. She gave me a talking-to because I’ve been clocking in on time rather than five minutes early.”
  • “Rachael has always been incredibly soft-spoken. I was surprised to hear her talk back to the supervisor when she questioned whether she had been clocking in on time.”
  • “This behavior is completely unacceptable. When you’re clocking in, it means you’re ready to start working. It doesn’t mean you’re about to start putting on your shoes and apron.”
  • “I think our new system for clocking into work is alright, but it doesn’t seem worth the massive investment the company put into the tech.”

Are you ready to learn more English expressions? Head over to our idioms blogs!

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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