What does the idiom "bolt from the blue" mean?

The phrase bolt from the blue is often used in English, but what does this idiom mean? When idioms are used in the right situations, they strengthen communication and enrich the language. You can communicate more effectively by learning the meaning of bolt from the blue.

Meaning of "bolt from the blue"


The idiom ‘bolt from the blue’ is an expression used to describe something that is completely unexpected and comes as a surprise. It’s often used for events or occurrences that seem to come out of nowhere and that were formerly completely unknown. In particular, the idiom refers to events which have an unexpected and dramatic impact on a person’s life.


The phrase ‘bolt from the blue’ originated, unsurprisingly, from the English language. It first appeared in the early nineteenth century and has been in use ever since. As a phrase, it’s a combination of two other phrases, ‘bolt’ and ‘from the blue’. ‘Bolt’ is a verb meaning to suddenly move or appear, while ‘from the blue’ is a phrase commonly meant to describe something coming from the sky, most likely referring to a lightning bolt.


The idiom ‘bolt from the blue’ is used most often to refer to sudden and unexpected events which have an unexpected and dramatic impact on the person experiencing them. It is a phrase most often used in the context of sudden and unexpected changes to one’s life or plans. For example, it can be used to refer to a sudden illness, the passing away of a loved one, or unexpected news from a friend. It is commonly used when discussing painful or disruptive experiences which come as a surprise.

Example Sentences

  • John was devastated after the news of his father’s death—it was like a bolt from the blue.
  • I was shocked when I received the news that my job had been eliminated—it was like a bolt from the blue.
  • Mary was completely taken aback when her partner announced he was leaving her—it was like a bolt from the blue.

The meanings of the words in the "bolt from the blue" idiom

The Surprising Origins of Everyday English Idioms

Many English idioms have surprisingly dark origins, often rooted in violence, death, and superstition. For instance, the phrase "raining cats and dogs" is said to have originated in the 17th century, when heavy rain would often cause dead animals to wash up on the streets. Meanwhile, the idiom "rule of thumb" is believed to have originated from a law that allowed men to beat their wives with a stick no thicker than their thumb.


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