Have you ever drawn a blank?

Have you ever been asked a difficult question and you just ‘drew a blank’? Most of us have, so ‘Don’t feel like the lone ranger’ Have you ever wondered where that metaphoric expression originated and how it came to be used the way it is today?

In my best-selling reference book, Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches. Proverbs and Figurative Expressions, which is in numerous public and university libraries across America, I listed over 1500 expressions and located the most likely origins, most with early citations, and many of which I was able to prove other researchers findings were not correct. ‘Don’t feel like the Lone Ranger is just one of those. But after the publication, and even two revisions of that book, I found so many more which really need to be explained, many of which were also incorrect in some other well respected and much used sources. One that was very interesting was ‘Draw a blank.’ Here is a sneak preview from my upcoming Volume II of Most Comprehensive Origins… to be released this October:

Draw a blank                                                                                                                                           

This is a very old idiom in the English language, stemming from British lotteries set up in Tudor England under Elizabeth I in 1567. Tickets with the names of purchasers were put into a ‘lot pot’. Another pot held slips of paper, some with prizes written on them, others blank. A name would be drawn, then a paper from the prize pot. Those who drew the blank papers were said to have ‘drawn a blank.’

Lotteries continued and in July, 1786, The Scotts Magazine, in ‘Parliament: Commons on the Greenland Fishery’ uses the term about the lottery:

“…his lot was equal to a 20,000 L prize in the lottery; whilst another, who chanced to fail of success, was like a man who drew a blank.

This usage continued through the 19th century, and into the 20th. The phrase, however, had been in print even earlier, in A Commentary upon the Fourth Book of Moses, Called Numbers by Simon, Lord Bishop of Ely, 1699, page 193:

“Then mixing all these in an Urn, he nad them come and draw: And. to every one who drew a Schedule, that had the Name of Elder in it, he said, God hath sanctified thee but to him that drew a Blank, he said, God hath not chosen thee.”

In Glenlonely; or, The Daemon Friend, Volume 3 by William Henry De Merle, 1839, the phrase is used figuratively of Sir Bruce Crawford’s quest for marriage (all marriage being ‘a lottery’ was voiced by Queen Victoria) on page 171:

“About three years after his divorce, he once more decided on the lottery of marriage: in England he had drawn a blank; in France he was more fortunate. Miss St. Clair was all that could add to the happiness of man; but, alas! how rarely does it happen that they who win the purest gems are allowed to wear them long…”

Note: another metaphor was employed in speaking of women as ‘the purest gems’, and being married as ‘wearing them’.

It was the 1930s before ‘draw a blank’ came into common figurative use. In Princeton Alumni Weekly, April 20, 1937 in ‘The Thumbnail Sketch’, number 130 by H.G. Murray on page 11:

“This after the college police and town force had drawn a blank. Ned simply strolled around the purlieus of the burgh, saw his suit on a mucker, and in the parlance of the local press, ‘apprehended the criminal.’”

2 Most Comprehensive cover

Off and On… amazing how many there are!

As those of you who follow my blog know, I am well into creating my second volume of Most Comprehensive Origins of Cliches, Proverbs and Figurative Expressions, It is my plan to have it ready to release this coming October. In order to do this it takes long, tedious hours of research and work. It continues to keep my ‘on my toes’. In the first volume, I researched and expounded upon numerous ‘Off and On’ phrases, like Off the cuff, Off the top of my head, On again, off again, On a roll, On a shoestring, On cloud nine, On one’s toes, On shaky ground, On the lam, On the other hand,  On the same page, On the tip of my tongue, and On the warpath. It would seem that the phrases would run out…but, believe it or not, they seem to go On and on. The off phrases don’t seem so endless. I picked up Off one’s feed, Off one’s rocker, and Off the grid. But watch out! Hold ON to your hat! (another one in the new book). Volume two has On edge, On a fast track, On a short leash, On someone’s dime, On, at or to someone’s doorstep, On the blink, On the button, On the edge of one’s seat, On the flip side, On the fritz, On or in the hot seat, On the QT, and On the wrong side of history, and I’m ‘here to tell you’ that this book is not only On the right side of history, it’s On the cutting edge of this genre in books.ant there are over 1000 more besides these!,Just make sure you own the first one first, Don’t ‘get the cart before the horse’ (that’s in the first book). This one is cross referenced with the first book, and has slight variations of some phrases just in case someone looks it up under that version, which refers the reader to the other version. I honestly believe it is more comprehensive than the original, but both are needed to see ‘The big picture.’ Stay tuned for updates!

2 Most Comprehensive cover