in the dark: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘in the dark’ mean?

The idiom "in the dark" means being unaware or uninformed about something, lacking knowledge or understanding. It is often used to describe a situation where someone is kept ignorant or intentionally left out of important information or events.

Idiom Explorer

Mysterious Shadows Uncovered

The idiom "in the dark" is commonly used to mean someone is uninformed or unaware of something. It dates back to the late 17th century and has its roots in the concept of literal darkness.

One of the earliest known uses of the idiom can be found in the play "The Non-Juror" by Richard Cumberland, which was first performed in 1717. In this play, the character Sir Humphrey expresses frustration by saying, "I'm in the dark; I can make nothing of it." This usage demonstrates the figurative meaning of being uninformed or lacking knowledge.

The phrase is derived from the literal sense of being in a place without light. Darkness has historically been associated with ignorance, uncertainty, and danger. When someone is "in the dark," they are metaphorically in a state of confusion or unawareness, much like being in a dark room where they cannot see what is happening around them.

The idiom has also been used in various idiomatic expressions, such as "keep someone in the dark" or "leave someone in the dark." These expressions imply intentionally withholding information or keeping someone uninformed about a particular situation. For example, if someone says, "I didn't tell him about the surprise party; I wanted to keep him in the dark," it means they purposely did not inform him to maintain the surprise.

In the darkest ignorance lies the greatest unawareness.

Another related idiom is "fly blind." This expression means to proceed without any guidance or information. It can be likened to a pilot flying without instruments, solely relying on instinct or guesswork. When someone is "flying blind," they are essentially operating in the dark, unaware of what lies ahead or how to navigate a given situation.

Furthermore, "in the dark" can imply a lack of knowledge about future events or outcomes. For instance, if someone says, "I'm in the dark about what will happen next," it means they are uncertain and have no information or understanding of the forthcoming events.

The idiom "hidden in plain sight" can also be connected to "in the dark." This phrase refers to something that is easily noticeable or visible, yet it remains unnoticed or undetected. It implies that someone is unaware or unsuspecting of something that is right in front of them. In a way, they are in the dark about what is right under their nose.

The idiom "in the dark" is versatile and is frequently used in both formal and informal contexts. It often appears in written and spoken English, indicating a common understanding and recognition among English speakers. Its usage spans various domains, including literature, conversations, news, and everyday communication.

However, it is important to note that while the idiom is widely understood and frequently employed, its exact origin and development over time remain obscured. Nevertheless, the phrase's longevity and continued usage suggest its enduring relevance and significance in the English language.

Lastly, the phrase "in the dark" can also be associated with the idiom "dead of night." This expression refers to the darkest and quietest part of the night when most people are asleep. It is a time when visibility is limited, and people are at their most vulnerable. Being "in the dark" during the "dead of night" can symbolize a complete lack of knowledge or understanding, emphasizing the sense of uncertainty and danger that darkness often represents.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom "in the dark" can be used in a sentence:

  1. She was completely in the dark about her surprise birthday party.
  2. Without access to the internet, he felt in the dark about current news and events.
  3. The employees were kept in the dark regarding the company's financial difficulties.

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