Lo and Behold: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
July 15, 2023

"Lo and behold" is an idiom that has its roots in old English. It is often used in speech to express surprise, wonderment, or confirmation of an unexpected event or fact. 

In short:

“Lo and behold” is an old english phrase expressing surprise or confirmation of something unexpected in storytelling.

What Does "Lo and Behold" Mean?

The idiom "lo and behold" is a traditional expression that often precedes a surprising revelation or announcement. It's somewhat akin to saying, "Guess what happened next," or "You won't believe it, but…." The phrase has its roots in Middle English, where "lo" was used as a short form of "look." Hence, "lo and behold" essentially means "Look and see." This classic idiom is still in use today, especially when the speaker wants to add a dramatic flair to their story.

  • The primary use of this expression is to draw attention to an unexpected or astonishing event.
  • It's typically used at the beginning of a sentence.
  • This expression can be used in both written and spoken English.
  • While it might sound archaic due to its use in old texts, it's still commonly used today for emphasis.

Where Does "Lo and Behold" Come From?

"Lo and behold" is an idiomatic phrase that has its roots deep in the English language. The idiom, often used to express wonder or surprise, is a combination of two archaic English terms: "lo" and "behold." The word "lo" is derived from Old English, specifically from the term "lō," an interjection used to draw attention or express surprise or awe. It served as a way to command people's attention. On the other hand, "behold" comes from the Old English word "bihealdan," meaning "to hold, keep, observe, consider, or look at."

Historical Example

"He had scarcely finished the sentence when forthwith opening his waistcoat,… lo!…and behold!…there hung suspended by a small green riband,…."

- Tristram Shandy, Laurence Sterne, 1760-67

10 Examples of "Lo and Behold" in Sentences

Here are ten examples of how "lo and behold" can be used in a sentence:

  • Lo and behold, after years of diligent research and tireless work, Mary was finally in the know about the ancient civilization's long-lost secrets.
  • I opened the door, and lo and behold. There stood my old friend.
  • We searched everywhere for the keys, and lo and behold, they were in the car all along.
  • Lo and behold, after a long day of treasure hunting, we finally found the chest of gold coins, to which we all exclaimed, Yes, please!
  • I thought the cat was lost, but lo and behold, she was sleeping in the cupboard.
  • Lo and behold, just as I was about to hop off the bus, I saw my long-lost friend standing at the next stop.
  • He said he'd found the solution to the problem, and lo and behold, he had.
  • I wondered where my glasses were; lo and behold, they were on my head.
  • He said he'd bring something special for dessert, and lo and behold; he brought my favorite cake.
  • After years of enduring the daily grind, he opened his email to find a promotion offer, and, lo and behold, his persistence had finally paid off.

Examples of "Lo and Behold" in Pop Culture

The phrase "lo and behold" also finds a place in popular culture.

Here are some instances:

  • In the song "Lo And Behold" by James Taylor.
  • In the film "Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World" by Werner Herzog.
  • In the novel "The Stand" by Stephen King: "...and lo and behold, there was Harold Lauder."
  • In the TV series "Gilmore Girls," Lorelai says: "I turn around for one second, and lo and behold, you've got a book."
  • In the novel "A Tale of Two Cities" by Charles Dickens: "Lo and behold! Some people are coming down the street."
  • In the TV series "The Crown," Winston Churchill says: "I turn my back for five minutes and lo and behold, the Labour party's in power."
  • In the TV series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," Giles says: "And lo and behold, some of them actually called back."
  • In HBO's series Game of Thrones, Tyrion Lannister states, "Then suddenly, lo and behold, I'm made Hand of the Queen."
  • The novel Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn makes use of the idiom thus: "I go to confront her about it, and lo and behold, she's gone."

Other Ways to Say "Lo and Behold" in Sentences

There are several alternative expressions that convey a similar meaning to  "lo and behold."

Some of these include:

  • And would you believe it, it was right there all along.
  • Would you believe it? In the grand scheme of things, there’s nothing new under the sun; he was indeed correct.
  • To my surprise, she had already left.
  • Who would have thought that they would be here?
  • Just imagine, we had been searching in the wrong place.
  • Off the Charts, they clinched the game victory.
  • And then, we found the missing piece.
  • Sure enough, he was waiting at the station.
  • Count me in. We made it miraculously.
  • Amazingly, the sun came out just as the picnic started.

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "Lo and Behold"

  • What is the origin of the phrase "lo and behold?"

The phrase originated from the Bible, specifically the King James Version, where "lo" was used as a command to pay attention.

  • Is "lo and behold" still used today?

Yes, although it is considered a bit old-fashioned, it is still used in spoken and written English for emphasis, to express surprise, or for a dramatic effect.

  • Can "lo and behold" be used in formal writing?

Yes, but its usage is less common. The phrase is more frequently found in narrative or creative writing where a tone of surprise or emphasis is needed.

  • Are there any synonyms for "lo and behold?"

Yes, phrases like "Would you believe it," "Guess what," "To my surprise," and "Just imagine" can be used similarly.

  • Is "lo and behold" an American or British phrase?

The phrase "lo and behold" is used in both American and British English.

  • What part of speech is "lo and behold?"

"Lo and behold" is considered an interjection, used to express surprise or draw attention to something.

  • Can "lo and behold" be used at the end of a sentence?

While not common, it can be used at the end of a sentence for dramatic effect. However, it is typically used at the beginning of a sentence or statement.

  • Can "lo and behold" be used without the word "and"?

It's uncommon to use "lo" or "behold" on their own in modern English. The phrase is typically used in its entirety as "lo and behold."

  • What does "lo" mean in "lo and behold?"

In the phrase "lo and behold," "Lo" is an old English word that means "look" or "see." It's used to draw attention to something.

  • What does "behold" mean in "lo and behold?"

"Behold" is an old English term that means "see" or "observe." In the phrase "lo and behold," it serves to emphasize the element of surprise or importance.

Final Thoughts About "Lo and Behold"

The idiom “lo and behold” holds a special place in the English language due to its unique usage. The idiom “lo and behold” adds flavor to language by introducing an element of surprise or emphasis on a particular point. 

Key aspects of the phrase “lo and behold”:

  • The phrase “lo and behold” expresses surprise or emphasizes a statement.
  • It originated from Old English, where “lo” served as a short form of “look.” Thus, it literally translates to “Look and see.”
  • Despite its archaic origin, the phrase remains popular in informal conversations and written communication.
  • Typically, it is used at the beginning of a sentence to draw attention to an unexpected event or fact.
  • An example could be: “I searched all day for my keys, and lo and behold, they were in my pocket all along.”
  • Because of its inherent dramatic effect, it’s also commonly used in storytelling or when recounting incidents.

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