What Does On Standby Mean?

To Be On Standby Meaning

Definition: Not working at that moment, but prepared to work as soon as necessary.

Origin of On Standby

This expression dates back to the first half of the 1900s and comes from the military, specifically the navy. When sailors weren’t yet on duty, but were ready to start when the navy needed them, they were on standby.

Over the next few decades, the term began to come into use for passengers waiting for a spot on a full plane. If any other passenger didn’t show up, one of the people on standby could take the missing person’s place.

Nowadays, people can use this in any context where a person or other resource isn’t actively serving a purpose but is ready and available to act when required.

Examples of On Standby

flying standbyIn this conversation, two high-school students are having an argument.

Lisa: Annie, you never invite me to hang out with you anymore.

Annie: That’s not true.

Lisa: You only want to spend time together when all of your other friends are busy. It’s like you’re keeping me on standby. You don’t really want me to be your friend, but you use me when you have no other option. I’m better than having no one at all.

Annie: I’m sorry you feel like you’re on standby. I’ll do a better job of inviting you to do things.

define standbyIn the dialogue below, two friends are discussing a fancy dinner that one of them is going to cook for his date.

Seth: Wow! You bought a lot of expensive ingredients.

Jimmy: I know. I really want to impress my date with my cooking skills.

Seth: I didn’t realize that you knew how to cook.

Jimmy: I don’t really know, but I found a recipe with clear directions. Also, I have my mom on standby in case of any emergencies. If there are any cooking disasters, all I have to do is call her, and she’ll come over and help me salvage the meal.

More Examples

This example is about a white nationalist speaker and the chance that the event will become violent.

  • The potential for violence at the event was enough for Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell to ask Florida Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency. The order Scott issued Monday allows Darnell to call on specialized security teams from across the state. It also places the Florida National Guard on standby. –USA Today

This excerpt is from an article about an American actress and her British accent teacher.

  • Even with a British husband and London-schooled children, she says it helped to have a dialect coach on standby for “Time and the Conways,” because, she says, “it’s good to have a third ear!” –New York Post


The phrase on standby means to be in a state of preparedness to act when needed.