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Imagine I sent a message to someone over Instant Messaging, and then went offline.

5 minutes later, they come online, send me a message and go offline.

10 minutes later, I come online, find their message but see they are now gone.

So what I want to express in this scenario is: "Ack! We keep "missing" each other in the space of minutes!"

However 'missing' is the wrong word to use here, obviously, I mean more like a 'missed catch' but it looks more like a 'I miss you' thing.

What is the right way to express what I want to?

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Missing each other is exactly the right way of expressing that you are doing just that. See the third bullet point of sense 2 in ODO. –  Andrew Leach Jun 15 '13 at 16:56
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"We keep missing each other" is as Andrew said, exactly right in the given context and would not be misconstrued as the other meaning unless you used "miss" differently like, "I really miss you!" or "I'm missing you and my heart is breaking!" :-) –  Kristina Lopez Jun 15 '13 at 17:08
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Are you talking about "phone tag"? I'd use "IM tag," if you're talking about instant messaging. –  Phil Vollman Jun 15 '13 at 17:12
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'This is so Box and Cox.' –  Edwin Ashworth Jun 15 '13 at 17:37
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!!!!! Box and Cox were two people (well, characters) (and brothers) who improbably missed each other time after time! It would be more typical nowadays for a third party to say "You two are like Box and Cox!" –  Edwin Ashworth Jun 15 '13 at 17:57

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

"We keep missing each other" is, as Andrew said, exactly right in the given context and would not be misconstrued as the other meaning unless you used "miss" differently like, "I really miss you!" or "I'm missing you and my heart is breaking!"

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You could, plausibly, say:

" We're unsynchronised in our messages" It would also avoid the ambiguity of: "missing each other" although in the context of instant messaging it's clear what is meant.

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At http://uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20130121094111AAKfmOb is an explanation of the usage of the expression 'Box and Cox' that comes close to how I remember it being used some 40 years ago here in the North of England. Also its origin. I've tidied it slightly - apologies to Bilbo:

[This expression refers] to a mid-19th century farce about two men (Cox and Box) who occupied the same lodgings, one by day the other by night - the original play was by John Maddison Morton, and Arthur Sullivan made a highly successful operetta out of it. It is now a rather quaint way of describing any pair taking alternate turns at something.

I remember that the ludicrousness of the situation (the brothers are unaware that they share the lodgings for most of the farce - that being why it's a farce) was an important factor in the wider use of the expression. So, the improbable alternate missing of contacts fits well here. The expression was never, to my knowledge, used for prosaic turn-taking.

Though there are plenty of Google hits, the expression does seem to have fallen out of favour in recent years. Perhaps the second part of the above quote provides the answer, though I'd guess it's merely that the expression now sounds dated and uncool.

As both words have a rather lewd slang interpretations (rather appositely alternate terms for male and female gentialia) it tends to have fallen into disuse as it then does not convey the same sense as the original.

A disambiguation from Wikipedia:

Cox and Box, or The Long-Lost Brothers, is a one-act comic opera with a libretto by F. C. Burnand and music by Arthur Sullivan, based on the 1847 farce Box and Cox by John Maddison Morton.

Probably both variants have been used in the wider sense.

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