What does “draw a blank” mean?

Discover the meaning, origins, and usage of the common English idiom 'draw a blank.' Learn how it is used in everyday language, literature, and the psychological perspective behind it.

Understanding “Draw a Blank”

“Draw a blank” is a common English idiom used to express the inability to recall information, find an answer, or achieve a desired outcome.

The phrase has several synonyms, including “come up empty,” “be unsuccessful,” and “fail to remember.”

Definition and Use in Language

The idiom “draw a blank” is used to describe a situation where a person is unable to recall or find the answer to a question or problem.

It is often used in everyday language, including in casual conversations, exams, and interviews.

The phrase is also commonly used in detective stories, where a character may draw a blank in their investigation or fail to find a clue.

Common Contexts and Examples

Here are three example sentences that use the idiom “draw a blank”:

  • “I tried to remember the name of the movie, but I drew a blank.”
  • “The team searched for hours, but they drew a blank in their quest to find the missing item.”
  • “During the interview, the candidate drew a blank when asked about their previous work experience.”

Etymology and Origin

According to Grammarist, the phrase “draw a blank” dates back to Tudor England, where Queen Elizabeth I ran a national lottery.

The lottery involved drawing names from one box and prizes or blanks from another.

If a person drew a blank, they did not win a prize.

Over time, the phrase came to be used more broadly to describe a situation where a person fails to achieve a desired outcome.

Cultural References

The idiom “draw a blank” has been referenced in various cultural works, including in the financial world.

For example, in a 2020 article in Goal-Shy Raith, the author uses the phrase to describe the team’s financial situation.

The phrase has also been used in popular literature, including in Agatha Christie’s detective novels.

Psychological Perspective

From a psychological perspective, drawing a blank can be seen as a normal part of memory recall.

According to a Psychology Today article, drawing a blank can be caused by various factors, including stress, anxiety, and lack of sleep.

Language and Translation

The idiom “draw a blank” has been translated into various languages, including Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, and Swedish.

Bilingual dictionaries, such as Cambridge Dictionary, provide translations of the idiom and its synonyms.