What does the idiom "on the blink" mean?

The phrase on the blink 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 on the blink.

Meaning of "on the blink"


The phrase “on the blink” is an informal idiom used to describe an item that does not function as it should, normally due to mechanical or electrical fault. A more common phrase for this is to say something is “broken”. The “blink” refers to a light that is flashing, implying that the item is not in working condition.


The phrase “on the blink” is believed to have originated in the early 20th century. The exact origin of the phrase is unclear, however it is widely accepted that it may have derived from the phrase “blinking light” or “blinking signal”, which was used to describe an electric or mechanical fault in an apparatus. The first use of the phrase “on the blink” was in the 1920s, in an American newspaper.


The phrase “on the blink” can be used to describe any broken or malfunctioning item, including electrical items such as computers, televisions and phones, as well as mechanical items such as cars and machines. It can also be used to describe a person’s mental or emotional state, indicating that they are not functioning properly.

Example Sentences

  • My phone is on the blink again, I think I'm going to have to get a new one.
  • The machine is on the blink, so I can't get my work done.
  • I think something's wrong with John, he's been a bit on the blink recently.

The meanings of the words in the "on the blink" 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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