Drawing a Blank


The phrase draw a blank means failing to recall a memory; in other words, it means being unable to remember something.

Example: Over the years, Ashley has studied all sorts of plants, so she’s very knowledgeable on the subject. One day, while she out for a walk, she recognized a certain flower from her studies; however, she could not think of its name. Thus, it might be said that Ashley was drawing a blank because she was having difficulty remembering what the flower was called.

1. Escape one’s memory
2. Lose one’s train of thought
3. Slip one’s mind

A woman drawing a blank while thinking.

The Origin Of ‘Drawing a Blank’

Wait a second, what was I about to talk about? I am ‘drawing a blank’ here. Oh right, the origin of this phrase! Sometimes when we attempt to recall something from the past, we might struggle to remember. It’s as if our brain reaches into a jar full of memories and it pulls out nothing; how frustrating! When people have trouble remembering things, they might use the idiom ‘drawing a blank’ to express as much. But where did this idiom come from?

This phrase is believed to come from old lotteries that took place around, or during, the 16th century. How so? Apparently, some of the lotteries back then worked like this:

Two containers would be used during the lottery; one container had tickets placed inside of it and the names of the participants were likely written down on them. Inside the other container were notes with the prizes written down on them. When the lottery started, here is what would happen:

A ticket with a name on it would be drawn from the first container, followed by a prize being drawn from the second container. The person would win whatever was listed on the prize note. Now, here’s the kicker: Some of these lotteries had blank prize notes. As you might imagine, if a blank was drawn, that would mean the person won nothing.

So regarding this idiom’s origin, the idea here is that drawing a blank during these lotteries eventually went on to be applied figuratively to people who try to remember things but come up short; they effectively are ‘drawing blanks’ in their mind, as it were.

Example Sentences

  • Billy was drawing a blank when he tried to remember the date of his doctor’s appointment.
  • I thought I recognized someone from high school, but I drew a blank when it came to their name.

Tip: This site is full of idioms, so if you’re unsure what those are, consider going over some idiom examples that can help you learn all about them.

Besides that, Know Your Phrase has the meanin of hundreds of common phrases; so if you’re looking for more expressions like this one, then use the menu at the top. When you choose a letter, it will take you to a list.