'Out of the Blue': Definition, Meaning, Examples

By Sophia Merton, updated on September 13, 2023

Did someone say something happened 'out of the blue' and you’re wondering what it means? In this article, we’ll take a look at the meaning, origin, examples, and more.

  • ‘Out of the blue’ is an idiom that comes from Britain in the nineteenth century that means “unexpectedly.” 

What Does 'Out of the Blue' Mean?

‘Out of the blue’ is an idiom that means “unexpectedly.” If something happens ‘out of the blue,’ it means that it happened without any prior warning.

For example, let’s say you haven’t heard from one of your friends in months. All of a sudden, she knocks on your door and asks you out for coffee. If this were to occur, you could say that she showed up ‘out of the blue.’

Where Does 'Out of the Blue' Come From?

This idiom is actually short for the phrase ‘out of the blue sky.’

The idea is that something unexpected– such as a rainstorm or lightning storm– can suddenly appear from an otherwise cloudless sky. When there aren’t any clouds in the sky, it’s reasonable to expect that there isn’t going to be any bad weather headed your way. However, sometimes adverse weather conditions can appear right ‘out of the blue sky.’

This idiom originated during the nineteenth century in Britain and is now an idiom that is used throughout the English-speaking world.

Early Iterations of the Phrase in Print

One example of this phrase being used in historic texts shows up in The Standard from London in 1863:

“Murder now rises up before us, gaunt and unmitigated, in a circle where all seemed lovely, virtuous, and peaceful. This is verily “a bolt out of the blue”—the lightning flash in a sunny sky.”

Here’s another example from a little over ten years later in The Dundee Courier & Argus:

“London, Tuesday Evening.
A bolt out of the blue struck this afternoon. Nothing calmer than the Parliamentary sky could be imagined. The House of Commons was scantily filled. Questions had been as dull and heavy as a West Indian summer day. In the lobbies members were complaining that nothing was moving.”

Earliest Uses of the Exact Phrase

When was the actual phrase first used in print? While it can be hard to pinpoint the very first usage of any phrase, the earliest known appearance of our idiom using its exact wording is from The Spectator in 1879:

“What is the Times at? Twice this week, the organ of her Majesty’s Government has fired off articles so completely “out of the blue” that it is difficult to believe they are uninspired, which point [sic] to some impending coup d’état or coup de théâtre to be immediately struck in India.”

We find a related variant of the phrase in The Republican Compiler from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, way back in 1836:

“The late veto of President Jackson on the bill to fix a day for the yearly adjournment of Congress, was like a clap of thunder out of a clear sky. It took both the friends and enemies of the administration by surprise.”

Examples of 'Out of the Blue' In Sentences

How would this idiom be used in a sentence? Let’s take a look at some examples:

  • They’re not just bringing this up out of the blue. If we’d been paying more attention, we would have noticed that our clients have been unhappy with our services for some time.”
  • “Her entire life, she has looked so youthful. All of a sudden, she started aging rapidly out of the blue. It’s like she aged ten years overnight.”
  • “It’s good to hear that you’re doing well, but I must admit you’re really showing up out of the blue. I’d love to find a time to talk more, but I have other matters I need to attend to right now.”
  • “I can’t believe my friend from high school just appeared out of the blue. We haven’t seen each other in more than twenty years!”

Other Ways to Say 'Out of the Blue'

What are some other words and phrases that have a similar meaning to 'out of the blue'?

Here are some options:

  • Out of a clear blue sky
  • Suddenly
  • Unexpectedly
  • Abruptly
  • All of a sudden
  • Out of thin air
  • Without warning
  • Out of nowhere
  • Out of the woodwork

Final Thoughts About 'Out of the Blue'

‘Out of the blue’ is an idiom that has been used in the English-speaking world since it first emerged in Britain in the 19th century. With the meaning ‘unexpectedly’ or ‘without warning,’ this is a great way to describe an event or occurrence you didn’t anticipate.

Are you ready to learn more English phrases and expand your vocabulary? Be sure to check out our idioms blog for idioms, expressions, sayings, and more!

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Written By:
Sophia Merton
Sophia Merton is one of the lead freelance writers for WritingTips.org. Sophia received her BA from Vassar College. She is passionate about reading, writing, and the written word. Her goal is to help everyone, whether native English speaker or not, learn how to write and speak with perfect English.

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