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

The expression bolt from the blue is one of the idioms that often finds a place in our literature and enriches our language. However, its meaning is not fully understood, so it is sometimes used in the wrong situations. Please review the explanation carefully for the correct use of the bolt from the blue idiom.

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 Global Spread of English Idioms

As English has become a global language, its idioms have spread far beyond the borders of the UK and USA. For instance, the idiom "beat around the bush" has equivalents in many other languages, such as "tourner autour du pot" in French and "dar vueltas al asunto" in Spanish. Meanwhile, other idioms have been adapted for local contexts, such as the Russian idiom "?? ???? ???????" (ne svoya rubashka), which translates to "not one's own shirt," meaning to be in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar situation.


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