Draw A Blank: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
August 17, 2023

The saying "draw a blank" is used when you can't remember something or when your mind goes empty. You might use this phrase when you're trying to recall a name, a fact, or an event, but no matter how hard you try, you just can't think of it. You reach into your memory, but all you come up with is a blank - nothing.

In short:

  • "Draw a blank" means you can't remember something, or your mind goes empty.

What Does "Draw a Blank" Mean?

The phrase "draw a blank" describes the experience of not being able to remember something. If you say you "drew a blank," it means you were unable to remember or think of something specific, even though you tried. It also suggests you feel frustrated or surprised by your sudden lack of memory.

Let's break down its main meanings and uses:

  • "Draw a blank" is used when someone can't remember or think of something.
  • You use it when you try to remember something but you can't.
  • The phrase shows that you're not just forgetting something casually. You're actively trying to remember, but you can't.
  • Often, it's used when you forget something you feel you should remember, like a person's name or an important date.
  • Here's an example of how to use it in a sentence: "As she tried to recall the details of her summer fling, she drew a blank." 
  • Similar phrases include "come up empty," "get a mental block," "go mind blank," and "memory lapse."

Where Does "Draw a Blank" Come From?

The phrase "draw a blank" comes from the 16th-century lottery games. Back in those days, people would pick out slips from a box. Some slips had the names of prizes; others were just blank. If you picked a blank slip, you didn't win anything. As time passed, this phrase started to mean not being able to remember something, like hitting a mental roadblock.

Historical Example

"...marriage does resemble a lottery, in which you may draw a prize, though there are a hundred chances to one that you will only draw a blank..."

- Thrift by Samuel Smiles, 1800

10 Examples of "Draw a Blank" in Sentences

Let's look at some examples to understand how to use the idiom "draw a blank" in various situations:

  • When the teacher asked me about the capital of Australia, I drew a blank.
  • During these trying times, she often draws a blank, her mind overwhelmed with worries.
  • Martha usually had a knack for breaking the ice, but when she met Luke, she could only draw a blank.
  • When asked about his plans for the future, he drew a blank.
  • She drew a blank when trying to recall her first childhood memory.
  • She was supposed to make an offer on the house, but when asked for a figure, she could only draw a blank.
  • Even though I'm in the pink of health, I sometimes draw a blank on simple things.
  • I drew a blank when they asked me for directions to the nearest hospital.
  • He was known to pitch a tent and explore nature, but he could only draw a blank when asked to navigate the forest trail.
  • Whenever I try to remember his name, I draw a blank; it's a new one for me.

Examples of "Draw a Blank" in Pop Culture

The phrase "draw a blank" is often used in pop culture to express forgetfulness or lack of knowledge.

Here are some instances:

  • The American rock band Goo Goo Dolls incorporate the phrase in their song "You Know What I Mean." The lyrics include: "I think back I draw a blank. You know, but, there ain't no need to dig the past."
  • "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest," a novel by Stieg Larsson, uses the phrase when the author writes, "She had tried to contact him on Sunday too. But she had drawn a blank."
  • Mayday, a UK band, includes the phrase in their song "Whoosh!" with the lyrics, "Think I do then draw a blank. Think I do, then trust me, you're mistaken."
  • The film "The Big Lebowski" features the character Walter Sobchak, played by John Goodman, using the phrase in the line, "You draw a blank there like I just did."
  • An article on the website Playmeo titled "5 Strategies To Help You When You Draw A Blank" discusses strategies for overcoming moments of drawing a blank.

Other Ways to Say "Draw a Blank"

There are many other expressions that you can use instead of "draw a blank."

Here are some of them:

  • Can't remember
  • Go mind blank
  • Forget
  • Can't think
  • Can't recall
  • Have a mental block
  • Memory lapse
  • Fail to remember
  • Can't bring to mind
  • Slip one's mind

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Draw a Blank":

  • What does "draw a blank" mean?

"Draw a blank" means failing to recall something or coming up with no response or result. If you are trying to remember something or find information and can't, you "draw a blank."

  • How can I use "draw a blank" in a sentence?

You can use it as a verb phrase in a sentence. For example: "When asked to share some words of wisdom, he drew a blank, unsure of what to say." This means that when someone asked him about her words of wisdom, he couldn't remember any.

  • Where does the idiom "draw a blank" come from?

The term "draw a blank" originates from the world of lotteries in the 16th century. Participants would draw slips from a container - some slips had names of prizes, while others were blank. If you drew a slip that was blank, you didn't win anything. 

  • Can you use "draw a blank" in different contexts?

Yes, "draw a blank" can be used in various contexts, ranging from personal conversations to professional discussions. It's a common way to express forgetfulness or lack of knowledge.

  • Does "draw a blank" always refer to forgetting?

While "draw a blank" often refers to memory lapses, it can also mean failing to get a response or result in a situation. For instance, if you're trying to get information on a topic but can't find any, you could say you "drew a blank."

  • Can "draw a blank" be used in formal writing?

Yes, despite its informal tone, "draw a blank" can still be used in formal writing as it is widely understood to mean forgetfulness or lack of results.

  • Is "draw a blank" used in other cultures?

Yes, the phrase "draw a blank" is used in English-speaking cultures around the world, including the UK, USA, Australia, and Canada. The understanding and usage of the phrase are similar across these cultures.

  • Can "draw a blank" be used metaphorically?

Yes, "draw a blank" can be used metaphorically to describe situations where efforts yield no results, not just instances of forgetfulness. For example, if a detective finds no clues in a case, they might say they "drew a blank."

  • Are there other phrases that mean the same as "draw a blank"?

Yes, similar phrases include "come up empty," "get a mental block," "go mind blank," and "memory lapse."

Final Thoughts About "Draw a Blank"

The idiom "draw a blank" is a common way to express forgetfulness or a lack of results. It's a versatile phrase that can be used in various contexts, from casual conversations to formal writing.

Here's a quick recap:

  • "Draw a blank" refers to the inability to recall something or achieve a desired result.
  • The phrase can be used in different situations, such as forgetting someone's name, can't remember a fact, or failing to find information on a topic.
  • It is a commonly used phrase in English, understood and used by people around the world.

Whether you're struggling to remember a piece of information or your efforts to find something come up empty, "draw a blank" is a handy phrase to express your experience.

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