What do you say when you call?

You’re not feeling well. Maybe it’s the swine flu—or the Mexican flu or H1N1—but you don’t want to take any chances.

So you phone your boss, reporting that you won’t be in that day.

Did you just “call in sick”? Or did you “call out sick”?

The more common expression is “call in sick,” because you’re calling “in” to say you’re going to be “out” sick. But recently, many television reporters and anchors have been saying that people have been “calling out sick,” as in “Dozens of children called out sick from swine flu, forcing the closing of the school.” And it’s showing up in print more, as well.

If you haven’t heard of someone “calling out sick,” chances are you aren’t on the East Coast, where the phrase seems to be becoming pandemic. Of about two dozen cases of “out sick” in the last six months, all occurred east of York, Pa., and north of Norfolk, Va. (One appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, but the writer grew up in Brooklyn, according to his Linked In profile.)

Some wise guy might say, “Well, if you call out sick, you say you’re staying out of work, but if you call in sick, you say you’re staying in.” In other words, they’re the same thing.

Most usage guides don’t address the issue, but The Columbia Guide to Standard American English and The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy both use “calling in sick” in examples. And Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged has an entry for “call in,” with a sub-entry for “call in sick”: “to report by telephone that one will be absent because of illness.”

While not incorrect, “calling out sick” can be jarring to many readers’ eyes or viewers’ ears. It probably arose from the same regional preferences that have New Yorkers “standing on line,” while most everyone else is “standing in line.” It may be an over-condensation of the phrase “I’m calling in to say I’m going to be out sick,” using only the beginning and end of the expression.

You can use either one, but keep in mind regional preferences. And just make sure you’re actually sick before you make that call.

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Merrill Perlman managed copy desks across the newsroom at The New York Times, where she worked for 25 years. Follow her on Twitter at @meperl.