shut one’s eyes and think of England: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘shut one's eyes and think of England’ mean?

This idiom means to mentally block out or endure an unpleasant or uncomfortable situation by focusing on something else, often by summoning one's sense of duty or responsibility.

Idiom Explorer


The idiom "shut one's eyes and think of England" has its origins in the late 19th or early 20th century in England. The phrase is believed to have been coined by Queen Victoria, although there is no definitive evidence to support this claim. It is often used in a humorous or ironic context to convey the idea of enduring something unpleasant or difficult with the hope of a greater reward or purpose.

The primary meaning of the idiom is to metaphorically close one's eyes and distract oneself from a distressing or uncomfortable situation. The "thinking of England" part of the phrase is often interpreted as an allusion to duty, responsibility, or a greater purpose that allows one to endure or persevere through difficult circumstances.

This idiom is typically associated with the Victorian era, a time when certain societal expectations and norms were upheld, particularly in regards to marriage and sexuality. During this period, it was believed that women were expected to endure marital duties, including sexual relations, regardless of their personal desires or satisfaction. The idiom is often used in the context of a woman enduring undesirable sexual encounters with her husband, with the implication that she should simply think of her duties to her country (symbolized by England) rather than her own feelings.

Shut eyes and think of England.

The idiom "block out" is closely related to "shut one's eyes and think of England." Both idioms convey the idea of mentally distancing oneself from a difficult or unpleasant situation. In the case of "block out," it suggests consciously ignoring or refusing to acknowledge a problem or issue in order to protect one's own emotions or mental well-being. This can be seen as a more active form of distraction or coping mechanism compared to "shut one's eyes and think of England," which involves passively diverting one's attention.

The idiom "stick one's head in the sand" shares a similar meaning to "shut one's eyes and think of England." Both idioms describe the act of avoiding or ignoring a problem or unpleasant truth, often to maintain a sense of comfort or to avoid taking responsibility. "Stick one's head in the sand" specifically alludes to the image of an ostrich burying its head in the sand as a means of hiding from danger or threats. Similarly, "shut one's eyes and think of England" suggests closing off one's senses and thoughts to the reality of a situation in order to endure it with a sense of duty or purpose.

However, it is important to note that the idiom has evolved beyond its historical context and is now used more broadly to refer to enduring any kind of undesirable or challenging situation. It can be applied to a wide range of scenarios, such as enduring a tedious job, enduring a difficult exam, or enduring a painful medical procedure, among others.

Despite its historical roots, the idiom is still used today, albeit less frequently than in the past. Its usage may be seen as outdated or offensive by some, particularly in the context of gender roles and expectations. However, it continues to be employed in certain contexts, often with a touch of irony or humor.

The idiom "shut one's eyes and think of England" originated in the late 19th or early 20th century in England, with Queen Victoria speculated to be its creator. It is primarily used to describe the act of enduring a distressing or uncomfortable situation by distracting oneself or focusing on a greater purpose. While it has historical connotations related to gender roles and societal expectations, it has evolved to encompass a broader range of scenarios. Although its usage may be considered outdated or offensive by some, the idiom remains a part of the English language, offering an intriguing glimpse into the cultural and linguistic heritage of the past.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom shut one's eyes and think of England can be used in a sentence:

  1. She didn't enjoy the task but shut her eyes and thought of England, knowing it had to be done.
  2. During the uncomfortable flight, he shut his eyes and thought of England, focusing on the destination.
  3. Despite her fear, she shut her eyes and thought of England, determined to conquer her stage fright.

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