While reading Experts Exchange(EE) Community Newsletter, I came across a new phrase. I'm trying to understand, what does crossed signals mean in this context?

Excerpt from the Newsletter:

This time we mean it: Call it crossed signals. xxxx, one of Experts Exchange's site administrators, was supposed to host a meet-up at xxxx in Denver last week, but a mix-up in communications forced its postponement to Thursday, .... If you're so inclined, feel free to come bend his ear about anything EE; you can RSVP here; the beer is on us. ...

... and finally, what does the sentence "the beer is on us" mean?

Complete Newsletter is available here.

2 Answers 2


crossed signals simply means there was a mistake. As the paragraph says there was a mix-up in communications. As @Fraser adds - "crossed signals" means specifically a mix-up in communications, it is that specific type of mistake that the expression refers too.

"the beer is on us" means "they are paying for the beer". Better rush to Denver on Thursday ;)

If you tell someone "This one's on me" then it means you are paying for that or rather treating someone else to that.

  • 1
    Just to clarify: "crossed signals" means specifically a mix-up in communications, it is that specific type of mistake that the expression refers too.
    – Fraser Orr
    Sep 14, 2011 at 14:47

This is supposedly a reference to railroad signalling, the method trains use to prevent collisions with each other. If a train is coming up on a section where it may have to cross or share another train's track, the status of the area is protected with signals on both ends to tell trains entering that area what they should do. If the signals aren't consistent with each other (eg: they tell trains on both sides its safe to enter), the two trains are said to have gotten their "signals crossed". This is obviously a very Bad Thing.

So metaphorically, it means that two people didn't read their "signals" correctly, with potentially disasterous consequences. It's particularly apt if the "signals" in question are meant to tell multiple people where or when to go (as in the example you cited).

As to the beer "is on us", that means they are paying for beer for whoever shows up. "is on us" or "is on you" refers to who pays for something.

  • 1
    I think crossed signals is from electronics/telephone - it's more commonly given as "crossed wires" or "getting your wires crossed". If you connect the wires crossed over the signal ends up on the wrong output.
    – mgb
    Sep 14, 2011 at 15:18
  • 1
    @Martin Beckett - If "got our wires crossed" was said, I'd agree with you. "Signals crossed" is referring to train signals though (which actually predate electrical communications by a wee bit). They actually mean slightly different things. A crossed wire tends to garble the message, but both sides realise it is garbled. With "signals crossed", both sides may think they are doing exactly what they are supposed to do.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 14, 2011 at 16:29
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    Wires crossed is perhaps more a BE thing - generally means "we were at crossed purposes", crossed signals seems to be more an AE term for "we made a mistake"
    – mgb
    Sep 14, 2011 at 17:06
  • @Martin Beckett: What does BE and AE mean?
    – Gnanam
    Sep 19, 2011 at 4:35
  • @Gnanam - British English and American English. They really aren't dialects themselves so much as large groups of dialects (grouped only by accident of geography). But its a useful shorthand for saying "we tend to say it this way in the British Isles". See en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_and_British_English_differences for more.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 19, 2011 at 12:51

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