Bowl Over or Bowled Over – Idiom, Origin & Meaning

Photo of author

Danielle McLeod

Danielle McLeod is a highly qualified secondary English Language Arts Instructor who brings a diverse educational background to her classroom. With degrees in science, English, and literacy, she has worked to create cross-curricular materials to bridge learning gaps and help students focus on effective writing and speech techniques. Currently working as a dual credit technical writing instructor at a Career and Technical Education Center, her curriculum development surrounds student focus on effective communication for future career choices.

Idiomatic phrases originate from understandable literal uses. However, over time, they have taken on symbolic use to add detail and understanding in speech and writing. To bowl something over began with a popular British sport but has taken on a metaphorical use in both American and British English to mean something surprising.

Let’s learn about this phrase and how you can use it to mean you are happily amazed about something or exceedingly disappointed about the unexpected.

What Is the Meaning of Bowl Over or to Be Bowled Over?

Bowl Over or Bowled Over Idiom Origin Meaning

The literal meaning of bowl over is to knock something down. It has its origins in the 18th Sporting Games of England.

The idiomatic meaning of bowl over is to surprise, astonish, or amaze someone or to “knock” someone down with the unexpected. The idiom bowl over is usually meant to express something pleasant. But it can also infer a surprise that wasn’t especially welcome and took the person unawares.

For example:

  • I expected a premium experience at the day salon and spa, but I was completely bowled over at how meticulous and detailed the attention paid to me was.
  • I was completely bowled over when I saw her stunning performance on stage.
  • I knew our charity drive would be successful; however, it raised triple the amount of the previous year, which completely bowled me over.

The Origins of Bowl Over

Bowled Over vs Bowl Over Ngram
Bowled over and bowl over usage trend.

To bowl something over is a transitive verb and originates with the action of rolling a ball on the ground from the mid-15th century. In 1755, “to bowl” applied to the game of cricket when the ball was delivered to the batsman.

By 1849, bowl over was synonymous with knocking something down and was quickly adapted into everyday use as an idiomatic phrase.

Let’s Review

The transitive verb bowl over or bowled over has its roots in British lawn bowling and the game of cricket. It is now recognized as an idiomatic phrase to highlight a surprise or amazement that takes a person unawares.

It is usually used positively. But it can occasionally be used to highlight disapproval or displeasure at an unexpected event or action.