Is “reach out and touch” an idiomatic expression?

The manual for the console versions describe him as “half unfeeling machine, half raging horned devil. This walking nightmare has a rocket launcher for an arm and will definitely reach out and touch you.”

from Wikipedia quoting NOW Gamer. It can also be found in the Depeche Mode song “Tainted Love”.


The phrase reach out and touch is is an idiom because it deliberately conflates two or more different meanings of the word touch and cannot be understood based on the literal meaing of the words used.

The word touch in the phrase is a verb form, and is preceeded by the phrase reach out. In this context, it suggests the following meaning (transitive verb, meaning 1)

To cause or permit a part of the body, especially the hand or fingers, to come in contact with so as to feel: reached out and touched the smooth stone.

However, the context in which the phrase reach out and touch is used rarely, if ever suggests an actual touching. Rather, in the tagline that made it famous, as described in other answers, the contact was at long distance.

Instead it could more readily convey being in touch. This phrase uses touch as a noun form. The phrase in touch means (noun, meaning 14)

The state of being in contact or communication: kept in touch with several classmates; out of touch with current trends

Finally, the word touch can convey an emotional, rather than physical contact (transitive verb, meaning 10).

To affect the emotions of; move to tender response: an appeal that touched us deeply.

Given the layers of meaning, and the non-literal usage, it is an idiom,

  • 1
    I don't think this is an idiom, merely a metaphorical use of an ordinary utterance. Reach out might be regarded as an idiom, depending on whether you include phrasal verbs; but if you treat that phrase as sememic, then the entire sentence could be translated word for word into French or German with no change of meaning. – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 23 '12 at 2:34

I'm not sure that it qualifies as an "idiom", but "reach out and touch someone" is a well-known poetic phrase meaning to make emotional contact with another human being. Using it to describe a weapon is intended to be ironic.

  • I'll upvote this if you put quotes around poetic ;) – StoneyB on hiatus Oct 22 '12 at 22:10

reach out and touch someone

was used as a very common idiom in the 1980s by Bell systems. Bell systems coined the phrase in their commercial, which caught a hold of society. Bill and Ted traveled through time in a glass phone booth, which the use of the phrase fit perfectly for the scenario. =D

EDIT: To further establish that the above is still considered an 'idiom' and not solely an 'ad tagline', a simple 'define idiom' search in google provides:

A group of words established by usage as having a meaning not deducible from those of the individual words (e.g., raining cats)

In which "reach out and touch [...]" does just that.

  • 2
    It's an ad tagline, not an idiom. – Marthaª Oct 22 '12 at 13:58
  • Or an idiom used in an ad tagline? – Mechaflash Oct 22 '12 at 14:05
  • If it was coined for the ad (which seems likely; anybody care to do a corpus search?), then by definition it was not an idiom at that time. Whether it has since become an idiom or not is a philosophical question for another day. – Marthaª Oct 22 '12 at 14:10
  • It's not an idiom like "raining stair-rods", it's a metaphor (or simply figurative). – Andrew Leach Oct 22 '12 at 14:12
  • @Marthaª Where do I induct phrases as idioms? Do you have a link? Whether or not it was used as an advertising pitch has no leverage over whether or not the substance of the expression is idiomatic in nature. The definition of an 'idiom' matches the usage of the phrase. – Mechaflash Oct 22 '12 at 14:12

I'm gonna disagree with both answers (and agree with Marthaª) and say that it's just warm, fuzzy advertising lingo from the days when one had to pay an arm and a leg to call long distance using a landline telephone instead of Skype. It's calculated to press your money-belt buttons to turn the money-belt into a jackpot ejaculating Las Vegas slot machine transferring your wealth into the bank account of Ma Bell or whatever other phone service provider you had to deal with. Rather than an idiom, I'd call it an advertising cliché.

  • 1
    As I mentioned in my comment to Martha, I think it's possible for an ad slogan to evolve into an idiom (particularly when one gets a boost during a presidential debate). Whether or not "reach out and touch someone" has made the transition would be up for debate – I'd call it borderline, but won't take any more of a stance than that. – J.R. Oct 22 '12 at 14:48
  • I agree. The one that strikes me as an established idiom is Just do it! – user21497 Oct 22 '12 at 15:12
  • Bill, I almost included that one, but refrained, because I wondered if that one went in reverse (that is, it became a tagline after it was already an idiom). – J.R. Oct 22 '12 at 15:15
  • I don't know which came first. Maybe the OED has a record of it. "According to a case study conducted by the Center for Applied Research, the slogan was born in a Nike meeting with the Wieden & Kennedy advertising agency in 1988. At the meeting, Dan Weiden reportedly complimented the Nike team for its can-do attitude, saying "You Nike guys, you just do it." This seems to be a case of what Gary Gilmore said before he was executed, "Let's do it!", turning into "Just do it!" at Nike. – user21497 Oct 22 '12 at 15:23
  • The link is a million characters long! – user21497 Oct 22 '12 at 15:24

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