I know that I and my family often say the phrase, “drawing a blank.” Most of the time we say it when we are playing some type of trivia game. One of us will say “I’m drawing a blank,” “I drew a blank,” or “I completely drew a blank” when we can’t think of an answer for the question being asked. This often happens in my household as we love trivia. We love to play Sporcle quizzes. We love to watch Jeopardy! We love to play Family Feud on Facebook. We also watch many other game shows.
When I think of the phrase “draw a blank,” I think of the papers from school or things in Games Magazine or World of Puzzles where there is a blank left because a word or a string of words is missing. Making these puzzles or worksheets requires leaving a line where the word or string of words is needed, so whoever is making the puzzle or worksheet would be drawing a blank.
Of course, the person would really know what belongs there unless that person is following instructions from somebody else.
It would make sense that the phrase “drawing a blank” moved from this to people forgetting the word or answer needed at a certain time, just as if the maker of the puzzle or worksheet purposely “draws a blank” to leave out an answer. The answer would seem forgotten, though it’s not really forgotten.
While this all makes sense to me, I do not know if it is the correct origin.
Of course, as can be deduced from my introduction, the phrase “draw a blank,” means “to fail to recall a memory.”
However, my speculation on the origin of the phrase, as usual, is completely in error.
The origins of the phrase “draw a blank” is from Tudor England. In 1567, Queen Elizabeth I signed a license allowing the lottery.
This was because the Queen was short on money.
The way that a lottery worked is that people bought tickets. Two pots, called “lot pots” were used. One pot was filled with slips of paper that had the name of everybody who bought a ticket and also an equal amount of blank slips of paper. Then, the other pot was filled with slips of paper that had prizes on them. One piece of paper was drawn from each pot at the same time. This meant that a name and a prize might be drawn or a blank slip of paper and a prize might be drawn.
When a blank piece of paper was drawn along with a prize, this was known as “drawing a blank.”
This practice is well-known and well-recorded.
However, it is interesting that the phrase “draw a blank” didn’t appear in writing outside of the lottery until 1832. It appears in a hunting song that goes, “The man – whose heart heaves a sigh when his gorse is drawn blank.” This song is recorded in Hunting Songs by Rowland Eyes Egerton-Warburton.
When it says “his gorse is drawn blank,” this means that the man sent in his hunting dogs to get the foxes out of the gorse (a spiny yellow-flowered European shrub or similar related plant), but there were no foxes there.
Brady, R. (n.d.). The Last Hunt. The Last Hunt. Retrieved July 22, 2010, from http://www.lasthunt.com/hib2.html
Dacko, A. (n.d.). This is just a small amount of glossary of relevant Hunting terms. Anthony. Retrieved July 22, 2010, from http://www.anthony-dacko.net/3.htm
gorse. (2010). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
Retrieved July 22, 2010, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/gorse
Martin, G. (n.d.). Draw a blank. The meanings and origins of sayings and phrases | List of sayings | English sayings | Idiom definitions | Idiom examples | Idiom origins | List of idioms | Idiom dictionary | Meaning of idioms. Retrieved July 22, 2010, from http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/draw-a-blank.html