Black Out

Also:
Blackout (noun)
Blackout drunk

Meaning of Idiom ‘Black Out’

1. When all the electricity fails and the lights go out. 1Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. ,2Spears, Richard A. McGraw-Hill’s American Idioms Dictionary. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008.

Usage

When used as a noun, a blackout refers to a city losing all its lights and going entirely dark. This usage is only pertinent during the night.

Examples Of Use

“During the hottest days of summer when everybody is running their air conditioner, the lights black out quite often.”

“Last night all the lights blacked out in the middle of dinner.”

“We had another blackout last night. The whole city was so quiet and peaceful.”

2. To lose consciousness; to faint or pass out; to experience a temporary loss of memory. 3Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013. ,4Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.,5Spears, Richard A. McGraw-Hill’s American Idioms Dictionary. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008.

To be blackout drunk is to become so intoxicated that one does not remember what occurred while one was drinking. This may or may not entail actually passing out.

Examples Of Use

“I’ve been having blackouts again lately. I think I may need to change my medication.”

“Peter was blackout drunk at the party.”

“I hit my head so hard last night I blacked out.”

“I can’t remember a bit of the lecture. I completely blacked out.”

3. To completely cover and obliterate printed words with black. 6Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

Examples Of Use

“Why are so many of the words blacked out?” asked Donald. “Those parts are redacted.”

“He tried to black out the more sensitive parts but you can still see the words if you hold the paper up to the light”

Origin

The first meaning, beginning in the early 1900s, originally referred to the lights in a theater being turned off. During the 1940s the meaning extended to a city purposely extinguishing all its lights in order to darken it and thus hide it from enemy bombers.

The second meaning, pertaining to losing consciousness, is thought to have originated with pilots during the 1940s who would sometimes pass out briefly while pulling out of a steep dive.

The third meaning may relate to an earlier meaning, dating from the 1400s, which alluded to defaming a person and ruining or ‘staining’ their reputation. 7Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

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Sources   [ + ]

1, 3, 6, 7. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
2, 5. Spears, Richard A. McGraw-Hill’s American Idioms Dictionary. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2008.
4. Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.