A question I get frequently is “What is a bolt in the blue?” Since I’ve been known to give bad answers, I’m hoping that this post will clear up the confusion. First of all, I’ve been using variations on “bolt in blue” to identify myself online since 1997. The story of where I learned the phrase goes back a few years farther, back to fourth grade.
When I was in fourth grade, one of my previous year’s teachers, Mrs. Weis, enlisted my help with several of her projects that she wanted done on the computer. There are so many stories that I could tell about Mrs. Weis that are funny and crazy, but one of the things that she wanted us to learn from her was to do “random acts of kindness”. She modeled these random acts of kindness with her own life, often leaving goodies for all the other teachers in their mailboxes, with some kind of note attached. She enlisted my help with one of these notes, which simply read “Guess from who? A bolt from the blue.” I designed a flyer that featured a lightning bolt in the background and printed her lots of copies, probably to my parents’ dismay, as our newfangled color inkjet printer got a workout. I liked the phrase, but incorrectly remembered it as “a bold in the blue”. Not that there’s much difference, but Mrs. Weis is a master at using old expressions, so I’m sure she had it right.
A few years later, I needed an identity for use on this new thing called the internet. After a short lived run with another identity, I wanted to pick something I could hang onto for a while. Somehow, “a bolt in the blue” popped into my head. Since then, I’ve used variations on it for all kinds of online aliases. Especially with “from” becoming “in”, the phrase has come to be uniquely mine. After nearly a decade, it very much feels like its mine.
What does the phrase actually mean? Phrase Finder suggests that it means surprise. Answers.com says it means “a sudden, unexpected event”. It’s an older idiom that was used by several authors, starting around 1840. I’ve been told that I’m full of surprises, so I think the phrase fits me well. And I love pictures of lightning striking. The phrase is really supposed to be about lightning striking while the sky is cloudless and blue, but I’m sticking with the storm photos. They’re just so cool–high contrast, with a purple, almost ultraviolet glow.