I have a feeling that this usage - which I personally find highly irritating, because it suggests either that the initiator of a conversation is helping a person who is in dire straits or that they themselves are in trouble and seeking help from a lifeguard figure - became popular in California, but is that correct?

  • It's not clear what you're asking. The idiom goes back into the 1800s at least, and appears to be used in a wide variety of contexts (though still with the meaning of "contact" or "talk to"). – Hot Licks Oct 28 '16 at 2:00
  • I'll agree that it is usually irritating. For most uses I've heard, the connotation is too heavy or melodramatic or something. Maybe the question is, "was the expression always this annoying?" – EL_DON Oct 28 '16 at 2:43
  • This is one of the most overused and obnoxious phrasal verbs that there is. – Alan Carmack Oct 28 '16 at 3:05
  • HotLick - It is very clear. EL_DON - No, that's not the question. – user203184 Oct 28 '16 at 9:19

Reach out and touch someone -- AT&T Commercial 1987

It's supposed to be warm and fuzzy. I don't know where AT&T got it, or if they made it up.

A little more searching suggests that it comes from a Diana Ross song; Wikipedia:

Reach Out and Touch (Somebody's Hand)" was the debut solo single of Motown singer Diana Ross, released in April 1970.

As for the psychological and social significance of the phrase, see the Psychology Today article When AT&T asked us to ‘Reach out and touch someone’, did they mean that literally?

The article points out that today, with cell phones ubiquitous, the phrase might mean the opposite of what it did in the 80s. Today, it might mean get off your phone and pay attention to the person you are eating dinner with.

See Meaning of "reach out to somebody" for many interesting answers on what "Reach out" means; the consensus is that it is twaddle. (Note, the older question does not ask about the origin of the phrase, thus the current question is not a duplicate.)

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  • Right. I was trying to find that song but Google claims it can't find "reach out and touch". – Hot Licks Oct 28 '16 at 2:07
  • Reach out and touch someone is not the same usage as reach out to. I don't know if there's any connection between the two. – Alan Carmack Oct 28 '16 at 3:06
  • @AlanCarmack - Actually, they are quite closely related. "Reach out" is the same basic metaphor in both cases. – Hot Licks Oct 28 '16 at 21:56

To "reach out" is simply a reversal of the word "outreach" to make it a verb.

According to Merriam Webster, the word means : the activity or process of bringing information or services to people and has been in use since the 1870's.

In modern usage, it can have a submissive context; as in extending an olive branch, or approaching someone with an offering of peace or goodwill. It's meant to be polite, not necessarily a suggestion of helplessness.

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  • The noun outreach, like throughput and a number of similar nominalisations, is modern coinage; the earliest usage recorded in the OED was in 1870. Reach out was used as early as 1653. – user203184 Oct 28 '16 at 9:42

I don't know about where and when it originated but it seems to me like "reached out" indicates "talk to" because typically when one wants to have a serious conversation with someone they will reach out and touch them.

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    Reach out connotes initiating contact rather than passively waiting for someone to contact you. – Jim Oct 28 '16 at 2:12