Drawing a Blank


Failing to recall a memory; being unable to remember something.

Example: Over the years, Aaron has studied all sorts of plants, so he’s very knowledgeable on the subject. One day, while he was out for a walk, there was a flower that he recognized from his studies, but for whatever reason, he couldn’t think of its name.

Thus, it could be said that Aaron was drawing a blank because he could not remember what the flower was called.

Synonyms / Related Phrases:
Escape one’s memory
Let slip from one’s memory
Losing one’s train of thought
A man drawing a blank while thinking.
This is Aaron from the example. He’s still trying to remember that flower’s name.

Origin Of ‘Drawing a Blank’

What was I writing about again? Oh, right, the origin of ‘drawing a blank.’

Isn’t it annoying how we sometimes try to remember certain things, but no matter how hard we try, we just can’t seem to do it? It’s as if our brain reaches into a jar filled with memories and it pulls out nothing. How frustrating! When people have trouble remembering something, they often use the idiom ‘drawing a blank’ to say 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 that had the prizes written down on them. When the lottery started, here is what would happen:

A ticket (presumably one 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 is listed on the prize note. Now, here’s the kicker: Some of these lotteries had blank prize notes that were used. As you might imagine, if a blank was drawn, that would mean the person wins 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 Of ‘Drawing a Blank’

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

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