Famous Sayings: #41 — ‘Blink of an Eye’

December 18, 2016

Years pass by in the blink of an eye.

blink of an eye, eye, famous sayings

The phrase I chose for this week is so common, that I was kind of surprised that its origin wasn’t so apparent. I almost looked for another idiom, but I was committed to looking at this one. And it was such a coincidence that I saw it used on Facebook by one of my elementary-school classmates.


What Does “In the Blink of an Eye” Mean?

As the article on wiseGEEK points out, a short definition for “blink of an eye” would be instantly, since it only takes on instance for someone to blink their eyes.

The phrase “in the blink of an eye” is used to talk about a very small amount of time. In short, something has happened very quickly.

But often, English speakers use the idiom to in a metaphorical when talking about something that happened over a much longer period of time. For example: Like I mentioned above, people commonly use the idiom when talking about children.

And in the blink of an eye, my little girl grew up to become a lovely woman.

Childhood only lasts a relatively short period of time, and as one gets older, time seems to move more quickly.


Now, What Is the Origin of This Famous Saying?

When I first began my search, there was nothing to find beyond the meaning of the phrase. However, when I viewed available sources, I came across the idea that the phrase “blink of an eye” was ultimately developed from “twinkling of an eye.”

As can be seen on a page from Learn English Today, the definitions are very similar.

Here is the meaning given to “in the blink of an eye”:

in the blink of an eye: If something happens in the blink of an eye, it happens nearly instantaneously, with hardly enough time to notice it.
The pickpocket disappeared in the blink of an eye.

And here is the meaning given to “in the twinkling of an eye”:

in the twinkling of an eye: This expression means ‘very fast’ or ‘instantaneously’.
Public opinion can change in the twinkling of an eye.

I also consulted a post on the Glosslogics blog. The author of this post, ALEXPOLISTIGERS, says the expression “in the twinkling of an eye” comes from the Bible (I Corinthians 15:52). The verse in question is in reference to what will happen at the end of the world.

I Corinthians 15:51-52

Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall al be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.

Here is verse 24 for context:

I Corinthians 15:24

Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom of God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.


Want Some More Tidbits?

ALEXPOLISTIGERS gives some more information, including the following:

  • “In the twinkling of an eye” in Latin appears as ictu oculi. The phrase would become known throughout Western Europe because of the Latin Bible’s usage there.
  • The phrase appears in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. (My note: in Act I, Scene II, uttered by Lancelot.)

Additionally, ALEXPOLISTIGERS shared some other versions of the idiom in other languages. Those were interesting to look at.

Finally, I was lead to look up the word “blink” on Merriam-Webster’s free website. Apparently, the word “blink” could be traced back to 1578.

Knowing this, it’s easy to see how the word “blink” came to replace “twinkling,” for the most part.


Works Cited

ALEXPOLISTIGERS. “In the twinkling of an eye.” Glossologics. 1 Aug 2013. Web. Retrieved 18 Dec 2016. Web. <https://alexpolistigers.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/in-the-twinkling-of-an-eye/>.

“Blink.” Merriam-Webster. Web. Retrieved 18 Dec 2016. <https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/blink>.

“English idioms relating to eyes, eyebrows, and eyelids.” Learn English Today. Web. Retrieved 18 Dec 2016. Web. <http://www.learn-english-today.com/idioms/idiom-categories/body/eyes-eyebrows-eyelids.html>.

“What Does ‘Blink of an Eye’ Mean?” wiseGEEK. Web. Retrieved 18 Dec 2016. <http://www.wisegeek.com/what-does-blink-of-an-eye-mean.htm>.

“What Does the Bible Say About In The Blink Of An Eye?” OpenBible.info. Web. <https://www.openbible.info/topics/in_a_blink_of_an_eye>.

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2 thoughts on “Famous Sayings: #41 — ‘Blink of an Eye’

  1. I too have used this phrase to describe a longer passing of time, especially when it comes to the way children seem to grow up…fast. But then I think about other occurrences which seemed to happen only yesterday but they really didn’t. I guess it’s a quicker way to describe a happening without going into detail. People I’ve talked to seem to respond better to this phrase I guess because they understand how quickly we blink. The interesting piece is we blink unconsciously. Just my thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

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