A shot in the dark


What's the meaning of the phrase 'A shot in the dark'?

A hopeful attempt.

What's the origin of the phrase 'A shot in the dark'?

The term ‘shot’ has been slang for an attempt since the middle of the 19th century; for example, this piece from Joseph Hewlett’s comic work Peter Priggins, the college scout, 1841:

“After waiting for a little while, Ninny… made a shot, and went so near the mark.”

‘A shot in the dark’ is simply a hopeful attempt to hit an enemy that you can’t see.

George Bernard Shaw seems to have been the first to use it metaphorically, in The Saturday Review, February 1895:

“1 Never did man make a worse shot in the dark.”

Trend of a shot in the dark in printed material over time

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Gary Martin

Writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.