fly under the radar: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘fly under the radar’ mean?

The idiom "fly under the radar" means to go unnoticed or stay hidden from attention or detection, often to avoid scrutiny or to do something secretly or quietly.

Idiom Explorer

Unseen and Unnoticed

The idiom "fly under the radar" is commonly used in the United States and has its origins in aviation. It was first used during World War II to describe flying missions at a low altitude in order to avoid detection by enemy radar systems. Pilots who successfully flew under the radar were able to proceed undetected and complete their missions with minimal risks. Over time, the phrase began to be used metaphorically, expanding its scope beyond aviation.

Today, "fly under the radar" is a phrase that is often employed in everyday speech. It is used to describe individuals who prefer to maintain a low profile, evading attention and carrying out activities discreetly. Whether it is in a personal or professional context, the idiom can highlight someone who achieves success or accomplishments without attracting undue notice or praise. It can also refer to a business or organization that operates quietly without much public attention.

The covert operation went unnoticed under the radar.

In social situations, "fly under the radar" can also apply to someone who avoids controversy, gossip, or conflict. This individual chooses to remain uninvolved and unscathed by potential disturbances, much like an aircraft successfully navigating away from radar detection. By keeping a low profile, they are able to maintain harmony and avoid contentious issues.

It is not just individuals who can "fly under the radar." Objects, concepts, and ideas can also avoid close scrutiny or remain inconspicuous. For example, a small company developing an innovative product may fly under the radar of larger competitors until their product gains sudden popularity. Similarly, a novel idea or concept may take time to gain recognition, operating discreetly until it gains critical mass.

While "fly under the radar" generally conveys a positive connotation of achieving success or avoiding undesired attention, it can also have negative implications. It may imply someone intentionally evading responsibility, authority, or accountability. Additionally, it can suggest a lack of ambition, as individuals who constantly fly under the radar may be perceived as avoiding challenges and opportunities for growth.

Overall, the idiom "fly under the radar" has its roots in aviation during World War II, describing the act of flying undetected by enemy radar. It has since evolved to encompass a broader metaphorical meaning, symbolizing individuals, objects, or ideas that prefer to avoid attention or scrutiny. In various contexts, the idiom highlights discretion, achieving goals quietly, or avoiding controversy. While often associated with success and avoiding undesired attention, it can also carry negative associations of evasion and lack of ambition.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom "fly under the radar" can be used in a sentence:

  1. He likes to fly under the radar at work, quietly getting his tasks done without seeking attention or recognition.
  2. The small restaurant has managed to fly under the radar of food critics, allowing them to operate in a more low-key manner.
  3. The politician tried to fly under the radar by avoiding controversial topics during the debate.

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