When did people start using the corporate jargon "let's take it offline" (let's discuss that after this meeting in private)?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the origin of online is from 1950:

online in ref. to computers, "directly connected to a peripheral device," is attested from 1950 (originally as on-line).

If the word offline in the jargon is the antonym of online as defined above, then the jargon cannot be interpreted literally. It is often used in meetings where people are all physically in the same room.

  • I, for one, have never heard “take it offline” used in this context. Around me, I don't think “offline” is widely used figuratively, if at all.
    – F'x
    Feb 18, 2011 at 13:06
  • The dictionary I have lists delay as one of the meaning of offline, in a specific context. I cannot find when offline has been first used with that meaning, though.
    – apaderno
    Feb 18, 2011 at 13:11
  • 3
    @FX: well, I hear it very often in scrum standups
    – vartec
    Feb 18, 2011 at 14:23
  • 1
    I found this question after encountering this phrase in common use at a new job, having never heard it used this way before. The crazy part is that sometimes you take a conversation "offline" from a face to face meeting to an internet chat room.
    – Sparr
    Jan 14, 2016 at 0:26
  • The expression goes back to the mid 70s, at least. I'm not sure that it was ever the "antonym" of "online". Rather, it likely was first used in reference to an assembly line, and pulling a troublesome piece off the line vs stopping the line until the problem was solved. The subsequent conceptual association with "online" and with computers was likely a sort of back-formation from there.
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 7, 2016 at 19:32

8 Answers 8


Warning: pure speculation.

It used to be that time spent connected to the network was very expensive. Back then, dealing with information to be processed offline was to use cheaper cycles to deal with that information. I most commonly hear this phrase in meetings, where a great deal of expensive engineer time is being wasted by details that only relate to 2 of the participants. Thus, taking the conversation offline is a metaphor for having the conversation on cheaper time.


My guess would be, that it comes from "offline" meaning as in "offline processing".


(computer science) Any processing which takes place independently of the central processing unit.

Thus "discuss it offline" as "discuss it independently of main discussion".


I've heard this used in conference calls, where it actually has nearly the literal meaning. Rather than tie up everyone on the phone, a smaller group can discuss the topic at another time.

  • Do you know its synonym? I am thinking of using some other phrase than this because, in my software company, offline means something else. Sometimes, it can be interpreted as having a conversation in-person. So, I was wondering if there's a more logical/modern way of conveying this idea of having a conversation in a small group. Sep 17, 2020 at 12:53
  • It's wordy, but "I'll set up a smaller meeting later in the week for folks interested in this" is working pretty well for us, in the current work climate. It's important to have someone 1) take responsibility for setting it up, and 2) set expectations for when. Sep 17, 2020 at 16:16

I'm fairly sure that offline in the expression "let's take it offline" arises from the sense that offline has in the context of company data networks. From Dan Balter, Managing and Maintaining a Windows Server 2003 Environment (2003):

You can mount and dismount volumes from the command line with the mountvol.exe command. On basic disks, if you type mountvol x: /p, where x: represents the volume's drive letter, you can dismount a volume and take it offline. ... By removing the drive letter and any other paths (mount points) for the volume, you take the volume offline.

But in addition to taking server volumes offline (that is, off the shared network), you can (if you have the necessary level of administrative rights) take a specific file offline (by transferring the file to a specific hard drive and then deleting it from the shared network). Taking a conversation offline is metaphorically very similar to taking a file that was begun "online" (that is, on the shared network) and moving it offline (that is, to a more private destination).

The earliest mention of "take [it] offline" that I've been able to find is in Eric Raymond, The New Hacker's Dictionary (1996):

offline adv. Not now or not here. "Let's take this discussion offline." Specifically used on Usenet to suggest that a discussion be moved off a public newsgroup to email.

  • Thanks, Sven. Your quote from Eric Raymond is the closest to a real answer to this question.
    – Sparr
    Jan 14, 2016 at 0:28

I think the real meaning of this phrase is to divert a relevant but non-critical discussion from the current place and time to another. However, as one mentioned, in reality, it is used interchangeably with "Shut up and let's move on". The reason is that usually there is no further discussion.


When you are in a group meeting and someone says to "take it off-line", this simply means "shut-up, move on, and forget about it", because I hear this often, but the conversation never continues off-line.

  • This is not entirely accurate. It just means that the discussion is detracting from the overall meeting. For example, when a minor detail is bogging down a larger concept, the meeting leader might say, let's take this off line. It doesn't inherently imply to forget about it.
    – David M
    Feb 26, 2014 at 16:15
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    This comment on a possible euphemistic usage doesn’t attempt to answer the question, which is about the origin of the phrase. Oct 9, 2014 at 18:52

I believe I started hearing it (or more often "let's take this offline") around 2000, and a Google search confirms that.

I'd say its fairly common, and when used between people in a meeting no one thinks it's supposed to refer to the internet-related meaning of "offline".


"off-line" may have an order reference; i.e. to assembly lines in manufacturing. For example, one of several lines assembling toasters may be shut down when orders fall below a certain number.

  • 2
    I don't see how this corresponds to the meaning that's being discussed here. Oct 7, 2014 at 0:33
  • However, I strongly suspect that the term originates with assembly lines.
    – Hot Licks
    Sep 7, 2016 at 19:34

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