Bolt From the Blue – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did someone just describe a surprising event as a ‘bolt from the blue?’ This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The expression ‘bolt from the blue’ means a sudden, unexpected occurrence or event. Usually, the event is a minor annoyance or frustration, or it causes you to have to take action to remedy a situation.

A bolt from the blue could be a piece of news you hear on the TV, or it could be running into someone you haven’t seen in years at the grocery store.

A ‘bolt from the blue’ takes you by surprise and off your guard. It’s an unexpected event and usually produces an annoying result. However, a bolt from the blue can also refer to a nice surprise.

Example Usage

"I had no idea things would turn out like that. When he arrived on the scene, it was like a bolt from the blue, and I didn't know how to handle it."

"We're standing on the corner, and the car came out of nowhere and jumped the curb. It was like a bolt from the blue, and it almost killed us."

"Does anyone know anything about this guy? He's a previously unknown fighter who entered as a wildcard in the event, and now he's in the final. He's a real bolt from the blue."

"Honestly, it's a real bolt from the blue, and we didn't expect it. No one could have thought it work out this way, but here we are."

"We were totally surprised. It was a bolt from the blue for us. Finding out you have HIV will change your entire lifestyle."

"Is there any way we can stop this from happening? This was a bolt from the blue, and we're woefully unprepared to handle the situation."

"It's a bolt from the blue for sure. Who could have seen that coming? Now we have to deal with it. There's no escaping it."


The expression ‘a bolt from the blue’ originates from lightning bolts caused by thunderstorms. Some lightning bolts have a peculiar nature, creeping along the sky before crashing vertically to the ground. This phenomenon forms the basis for the idiomatic expression ‘a bolt out of the blue.’

The lightning bolt is erratic and unexpected, surprising people standing around in the storm. Some language experts believe the phrase originates from projectiles fired by a crossbow in ancient warfare. Crossbow arrows are called ‘bolts.’

Crossbows have a long range, and many people wouldn't see them until they dropped out of the sky on the target. The first record of the expression in writing comes from writer Thomas Carlyle in his three-part story, ‘The French Revolution,’ published in 1837.

“Arrestment, sudden really as a bolt out of the Blue, has hit strange victims.”

Phrases Similar to Bolt from the Blue

  • Came out of nowhere.

Phrases Opposite to Bolt from the Blue

  • Predictable.
  • Consistent.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Bolt from the blue.
  • Bolt out of the blue.

Ways People May Say Bolt from the Blue Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with lightning bolts in its conversational context. Using it to describe lighting during a storm is incorrect. A ‘bolt from the blue’ is an unexpected event that surprises you. It also has no connection to the ocean.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Bolt from the Blue

You can use the phrase ‘bolt from the blue’ when describing an unexpected event that came out of nowhere. The term suits professional and social use. Use it at the office to explain how a random customer walked into your store and purchased a high-ticket item after you thought they were a deadbeat.

Use it with friends to describe an unknown fighter that suddenly rose through the rankings to dominate their weight class. A ‘bolt from the blue’ is a surprise and usually has a positive connotation. However, there are situations where a ‘bolt from the blue’ can have a negative meaning, depending on the context of the conversation.

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