What Does Turn a Blind Eye Mean?

To Turn a Blind Eye Meaning

Definition: To ignore something deliberately, usually something severe.

Origin of Turn a Blind Eye

This expression first started appearing in print around the 1820s.

This phrase appears to have originated from Lord Horatio Nelson, second in command of the English fleet. In 1801, England was besieging Copenhagen.

The flagship sent signals for Nelson and his fleet to withdraw and disengage his troops, but he wanted desperately to attack. Nelson was convinced England could win the battle if they persisted, so he “turned a blind eye.”

The significance of this phrase was that Nelson had lost the sight of one eye at Calvi. In other words, he turned his blind eye (his glass eye) to the signals for withdrawal, telling his lieutenant that he could see no signals to withdraw.

The attack forced a French surrender and proved to be a major victor for England.

As farfetched as this story seems, it does have good historical sources and appears to be entirely accurate.

Examples of Turn a Blind Eye

turn a blind eye quotes In the example below, two siblings are talking to each other about another student at their school who has mysterious bruises.

Jordan: Hey, James. Did you notice that younger girl at our school always has her arms covered in bruises.

James: Yeah. Why?

Jordan: I’m just worried that someone is hurting her. Maybe someone at home. She doesn’t really have any friends.

James: I’m sure she’s fine. Our teachers would do something if they knew her parents were hitting her, or something like that.

Jordan: I disagree. Our teachers turn a blind eye to all sorts of things. I’ve seen a teacher walk past one big kid beating up a small kid in the hallway, and he didn’t say anything. I’m going to talk to that younger girl tomorrow and see if there’s anything I can do to help. Just because everyone else turns a blind eye doesn’t mean I have to.

turn a blind eye synonym In the second dialogue, two coworkers are discussing some rules their company is breaking.

Job: Here’s the camera so you can take some pictures for our new marketing campaign.

Melissa: Thanks, but I just learned something that I need to talk to you about.

Job: We’re pretty busy right now. Can it wait?

Melissa: I don’t think so. It’s kind of an emergency.

Job: Okay. What is it?

Melissa: I learned that this company is breaking some pretty serious laws. Here. Look at this list. I wrote them all down.

Job: Oh…yeah.

Melissa: You knew about this? Does everyone know? Why doesn’t anyone do something about it? Why is everyone turning a blind eye?

Job: I’ve told my boss he should change these things. When he didn’t, I reported the company to the proper authorities. I’m not sure why no one is doing anything to fix it, but there’s not much else that I can do.

More Examples

This quote is about officials valuing money so much that they ignore child abuse.

  • “There is this massive golden money egg out there that these high-level Olympic executives get a piece of each and every year. The money is so great and the greed is so prevalent, that they’re willing to turn a blind eye to anything that makes their organization look bad,” Allard told the Daily News. “Even if it means having at least some knowledge that there are pedophiles out there abusing athletes. It’s just incomprehensible to think about.” –New York Daily News

The second example is about the importance of not ignoring a dangerous disease for bats.

  • Humanity can’t turn a blind eye to the scourge of white nose syndrome, which is killing bats and spreading across the country, officials said Thursday at the Central Park Zoo. –New York Daily News


The phrase to turn a blind eye means to pretend not to see something or to refuse to acknowledge something.