17

From time to time I hear the phrase rain check. For instance

I have to take a rain check on that.

I would say that means

I have to get back to you on that issue.

  • How do I use that phrase?
  • What does it mean?
  • Where does it come from?
  • I always think while hearing rain in rain check that it sounds a little different than the word rain. Is it pronounced differently? It sounds like rai-n check. But I could be wrong.
10

I to have to disagree with your interpretation of that phrase.

"I have to take a rain check" is not the same as saying "I have to get back to you."

For example, this would be wrong:

Where is that report I asked for?

I have to take a rain check.Incorrect

To "take a rain check" is to turn down an offer that you expect (or ask, or demand) to be made available again at a later date. For example:

The item on sale is no longer in stock.

Can I get a rain check for that?Correct

This is a more idiomatic usage:

Would you like to go out on my boat?

I'll have to take a rain check!Correct
- or -
Can I get a rain check [for that]?

8

The term originated when American baseball games were suspended or halted because of bad weather, and a "rain check" was issued to paying spectators entitling them to attend a future game at no extra cost. The term has been extended by merchants whose supply of a particular item has run out, to allow a customer to purchase the same item in the future, at the same price as the currently unavailable item.

So yes, it does mean "I'll get back to you; I can't deal with it now."

  • 2
    I would put it more as a polite but informal way of declining an offer (just as you might say, "I don't have time today, but perhaps some other time") than as a promise to accept the offer in the future. It implies that the offer had some value, and although you must reluctantly decline, you would not wish to imply irritation or a desire to avoid such offers in the future. – Shog9 Jan 25 '13 at 1:48
4

Taking a rain check is a polite way of saying "no" to an invitation, especially in American English.

A rain check (this dictionary entry also has pronunciation) is

a ticket that can be used later if a game, show, etc. is cancelled because of rain

Rain checks started with rain, but now stores may give a rain check at other times, like when a product runs out during a sale.

You can decide to take a rain check when there is an invitation open to you. For example:

  • Your friend asks, Would you like to go to my poetry reading? and you don't want to go. You can answer, Sorry, I'll have to take a rain check.
  • You might use I have to take a rain check on that to mean that you are busy and you have to respond to someone later, like if someone asks, want to chat? This works if a response like not right now, thanks would also make sense. But, if your boss asks you to do something, it might not be appropriate to say I have to take a rain check on that, because this is not a social invitation you can say "no" to without explanation.
  • 1
    For me (a British English speaker) strongly marked as American and when I first met it pretty much incomprehensible. Only reading one of the other answers did I discover that "check" refers to the financial instrument (a "cheque"). I had always parsed it as "to check if there is rain" which struck me as a very odd way to say "no". It clearly does mean "no" to Americans even if it sounds (to a non-American) like "I will get back to you on that". – Francis Davey Dec 30 '14 at 12:26
0

As an American who has heard and used the term countless times, I would like to say that it is generally a warm way to decline an offer. In other words, it’s a way of saying that you would have very much liked to accept the offer but you cannot and hope the offer will be extended again. So it is as if you wanted to attend the baseball game or buy the object at the store (as per the original uses of the term) but since you can’t, you hope you will by given another chance at a later date. Sometimes it’s just a polite dismissal, but a hurried or dismissive tone may give that away.

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