Draw a blank

Draw a blank is an idiom that dates back hundreds of years. We will examine the meaning of the idiom draw a blank, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

To draw a blank means to be unable to remember something or to fail at an endeavor. The idiom draw a blank usually means that one cannot provide some bit of information due to a lack of recall. The expression draw a blank is derived from an Elizabethan practice. During the 1500s, lotteries were held to fund the state. The drawings were conducted by writing the name of each participant on a slip of paper and putting those slips of paper in a pot. Then, prizes were written on slips of paper and put into another pot. The prizes were awarded by drawing a participant’s name and a slip of paper from the prize pot. If the slip of paper were blank, the participant did not win a prize. To draw a blank meaning to fail at an endeavor became a popular idiom very quickly, it took some time before the idiom took on its current most popular meaning, to fail to remember. Related phrases are draws a blank, drew a blank, drawing a blank.

Examples

“In the beginning I knew exactly who I could reach out to in about 10 countries, but ask me about Somalia and I’d draw a blank,” Dolat says. (The Philadelphia Tribune)

I can write an entire column in my head while mowing the lawn but will draw a blank when I sit down to type it out. (The Dawson Creek Mirror)

After Newcastle drew a blank against Burnley in February, Shearer tore into the attacking recruitment which has seen the club struggle for goals since Bruce took over. (The Chronicle)

Enjoyed reading about this idiom? Check out some others we covered: