Surprise, surprise!

by Kate Woodford

Mark Finney/Moment/Getty

Life is full of surprises, so they say. Sometimes the surprises are welcome and sometimes not, but however we feel about them, they are a fact of life. This week, then, we’re looking at the language that we use to talk about things that we are not expecting, and the way that we react to these things.

Something that happens suddenly, happens quickly, often when you are not expecting it: I don’t remember anything about the accident – it all happened so suddenly. Other ways of saying ‘suddenly’ are the phrases all of a sudden and all at once: He was walking along perfectly happily and then, all of a sudden, he collapsed./All at once, there was a loud crashing sound.

Several idioms are used for talking about sudden, unexpected events. One of the most frequent is out of the blue. If something happens out of the blue, it happens very quickly and in a way that you are not expecting. Then one day, completely out of the blue, she announced that she was leaving. Another such phrase is to come out of/from nowhere. Something moving, such as a vehicle or person, that comes out of nowhere or comes from nowhere arrives or appears suddenly and unexpectedly: The car seemed to come from nowhere. Something unexpected and shocking that happens suddenly can also be called a bolt from the blue (or a bolt out of the blue): David’s resignation was a bolt from the blue, wasn’t it?

A small group of phrases relates to the effect that a surprise has on someone. For example, if something takes you by surprise or takes/catches you unawares, it happens suddenly, when you are not prepared for it, often causing problems or confusion: The storm took everyone by surprise./Whyte’s long shot caught the goalkeeper unawares, taking the final score to 2-0. Similarly, you may say that something unexpected catches you off guard: I wasn’t expecting the question and it caught me off guard.

Some phrases relate specifically to spoken surprises. A bombshell is an unexpected and shocking piece of news, often a bad one. To drop a bombshell is to announce such a piece of news: That was when my sister dropped the bombshell that she was getting divorced. Meanwhile, if you are taken aback by what someone says, you are surprised or shocked by it so that you don’t know what to say for a while: I wasn’t expecting her to be so honest with me and was rather taken aback by it.

Here’s hoping the week ahead is free of unwelcome surprises!

6 thoughts on “Surprise, surprise!

  1. Oleg Markin

    Dear Kate, now my mind’s cell which keeps ‘take one by surprise’ has filled with a number of similar idioms, ‘a bolt from the blue’ being most attractive: in Russian, this sounds like ‘the thunder among the clear sky’. Well, this post is outstandingly informative!

  2. Dear Kate: Thank you for your useful information. I’m an English as a second language teacher in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. We are a private Marist school (catholic) and we prepare our students to be certified by Cambridge’s FCE. I’m always searching for new expressions, so your blog has been very helpful. Your input is most appreciated. Greetings from one of the amazing Mayan culture locations

    by Cecilia Lopez-Anthor, June 17,2016 at 11:43

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