Turning a Blind Eye - Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did you witness a crime but failed to inform the authorities? Whether you did it on purpose or not, you were "turning a blind eye" to the situation. Turning a blind eye means that you act like you're not paying attention to a specific action. It could be a crime or a minor transgression acting as the factor for you turning a blind eye.

Turning a blind eye can apply to many situations, from something as simple as an employee asking a manager for an unauthorized break to a security guard failing to intervene in a store robbery because they know the perpetrators.

This post unpacks everything you need to know about the meaning and origin of the idiom and how to use it in conversation.

Turning a Blind Eye Meaning

The meaning of "turning a blind eye" refers to intentionally failing to pay attention to the acts of another person. You could know the other person, or they might be a stranger.

The phrase is suitable for use in social and professional settings. It may have an ill intention or innocence behind it, depending on the nature of what you're turning a blind eye to with your behavior.

Turning a Blind Eye Example Usage

Some of the example use cases for "turning a blind eye" are the following.

  • Abigail wanted to take a bathroom break outside of her allotted hours, so the manager decided turning a blind eye to her situation was fine.
  • The security guard decided turning a blind eye to the robbers was better than taking a bullet in the chest.
  • I saw Mike cheating on the test, but he's my friend, so I decided to turn a blind eye to it was the best move.
  • Nancy decided to rage on the supporters for breaking the law while turning a blind eye to her similar legal transgressions.

Turning a Blind Eye Origin

The origin of "turning a blind eye" comes from Admiral Horatio Nelson during the "Battle of Copenhagen" in 1801. The Admiral failed to withdraw his troops after instruction from Admiral Sir Hyde Parker to disengage.

The tradition was to signal the other commander with flags. However, Nelson thought his troops would win the battle. So, he decided on "turning a blind eye" to the flag signals at the cost of getting in trouble. Nelson was blind in one eye at the time and did not receive any sanctioning from his commander after submitting his excuse, particularly since he ended up winning the engagement.

The original text of the transgression appears as such.

"You know, Foley," turning to the captain, "I have only one eye—I have a right to be blind sometimes."

Phrases Similar to Turning a Blind Eye

  • Failing to witness.
  • Failing to pay attention.
  • Avoiding contact.
  • Deliberately ignore.
  • Pretend not to notice.

Phrases Opposite to Turning a Blind Eye

  • To pay attention.
  • To witness an event.
  • To give testimony.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Turning a blind eye.
  • Turn a blind eye.

Ways People May Say Turning a Blind Eye Incorrectly

Some people may use the idiom "turning a blind eye" in the wrong context. The phrase is suitable for use when avoiding witnessing an event. It has nothing to do with a physical limitation.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Turning a Blind Eye

You can use "turning a blind" eye in social and professional settings. The correct use of the term is to describe the willing avoidance of witnessing an act. It could be something as simple as turning a blind eye to your child stealing a cookie from the jar or something as heinous as witnessing a murder.

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