While reading a novel I've found this expression:

bolt from the fold

Does anyone know what it means?

Here is the whole sentence to provide some context:

It is possible that Godfrey found the lifestyle more than a little alienating, for, sometime during the course of his studies at Fargo Congregational College, he bolted from the fold and, to the enduring agony of his parents, fell into worldy pursuits, and ended up, somehow, getting a Ph.D. in Classics from a small private university in Ohio.

  • 2
    To bolt is to escape. So the picture is one of the sheep escaping from the pen where the sheep are kept.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 2:30

1 Answer 1


It's not an idiom. The meaning of the expression depends on the meaning of the word "fold" in this context.

Fargo Congregational College sounds like the name of an evangelical Christian college. Its students are most likely the children of people who attend born-again Christian churches. People who want to say nasty things about churchgoers often liken them to sheep. A congregation of sheep is called a "fold". A pen in which sheep are kept is also called a "fold".

So Godfrey left school (bolted) because the lifestyle there alienated him (turned him off; bored him; annoyed him; angered him). He changed his life, changed colleges, and studied something more interesting to him.

  • 1
    I think the word is often applied to a congregation, for the reasons you state, but not exclusively so. Here is a good example of the phrase applied to the political arena: In 1952 Russell announced his candidacy for United State President. In 1948 the "Dixiecrats" had bolted from the fold, unhappy with the direction the Democrats were headed.
    – J.R.
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 10:01
  • @J.R.: I agree with your comment. I restricted the remark to religious groups because the protagonist of the story the OP referred to seemed to me to be a student at a religious college. Sorry if my answer seemed to say that it was exclusively used for religious groups. As you point out, it's used for any social group, and I suspect that it'd even be used for groups without a stipulated ideology, e.g., a family or a tribe, or a clan.
    – user21497
    Commented Jan 24, 2013 at 10:18
  • It's not just "people who want to say nasty things about churchgoers" who liken congregations to sheep. Jesus Christ refers to himself as a shepherd and his people as sheep, for example in John 10:14.
    – jejorda2
    Commented Mar 27, 2015 at 20:41

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