Under the Radar – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Did your friend tell you a football player flew "under the radar" this season, and they only noticed their skills now? This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The expression "under the radar" means something that went unnoticed or avoided your attention. It's another way to say something escapes your attention, or it's the underdog that you never noticed before.

If something is "under your radar," it could be that it was operating in secrecy, deliberately outside your attention. It means you previously failed to notice something, but now it has your full attention. If something is under your radar, you are unaware of its existence.

Example Usage

"That guy went under the radar for the entire season. I didn't even know he was on the team. He changed things up when we got to the playoffs; now he's an integral part of every game."

"That employee was under the radar for the last three months, but it looks like she's come into her own. She closed a huge deal yesterday, and now management is paying attention."

"That flew under my radar for months. I had no idea it was there, and now I can't stop noticing it."

"I don't know if I'm under the radar or washed up. How can I tell the difference? I hope it's former and not the latter."

"That security flaw flew under the radar for months. I'm glad the ITY team picked up the problem before some hacker figured it out."

"That artist flew under the radar for years. She's one of the most unique sounds in the industry, and she's only starting to gain traction now."

"That car flew under the radar for years. I never thought I'd be driving one today. It's amazing how we don't notice something until we start using it. Now I see it everywhere."

"This guy flew under the radar in prison. It's good that the gangs didn't notice him, or he would have been in trouble."


The expression "under the radar" originates from the military during World War II. The term appeared after the war during the introduction of radar systems to detect planes and airborne projectiles, like missiles.

Radar systems could not detect low-flying aircraft and projectiles due to interference with radio waves on the ground. Thus, low-flying planes would fly "under the radar." Fighter pilots commonly use the saying when describing their missions, flying low to the ground.

It's unclear when the saying transitioned from exclusive use in the military to civilian use. However, language experts believe the current usage of the expression referring to someone or something being out of your realm of awareness emerged sometime in the late 1970s in America.

Phrases Similar to Under the Radar

  • Off the radar
  • Below the radar
  • Beneath the radar
  • Above the radar

Phrases Opposite to Under the Radar

  • Out in the open.
  • On my radar.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Under the radar.

Ways People May Say Under the Radar Incorrectly

The phrase "under the radar" doesn't refer to something or someone going out of view of a radar system. It's a way of saying you never noticed something before, despite always being there. It means something escaped your attention, but now it's in view.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Under the Radar

You can use the expression "under the radar' to describe situations where you miss someone or something, and they slip out of your awareness. The phrase suits social and professional situations. For instance, you could use it when talking with your friends about a new player in your favorite football team that flew under the radar for the season without making any significant contribution to the team.

You could use it at work to describe how an employee's performance went unnoticed until they eventually broke through and made a big sale. The expression suits verbal communications and text-based communications.

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