I have recently heard that phrase (touch the blue paper) from a native English speaker¹. Is it an erroneous alteration of the expression light the blue touchpaper or is it a correct² phrase in its own right?

1. from the West Midlands, if that matters. 2. by correct, I mean in current idiomatic usage

  • Just an interesting side-note. I remember looking up this phrase (light the blue touch paper) a while ago when it was used in the dialog of the classic Doctor Who television show to refer to the threat of a fringe group initiating a global nuclear disaster. The serial name was "Robot" which aired in 1974-1975 (sorry, I don't remember the specific episode number within the 4-part serial).
    – O.M.Y.
    Commented Oct 28, 2016 at 2:20

2 Answers 2


It sounds to me like he has misquoted 'Light the blue touch-paper', as you suspected. There is no such idiom as 'touch the blue paper'. Nobody's perfect!

  • 1
    I've never heard of either expression. Where do they come from?
    – morganpdx
    Commented Jan 31, 2011 at 20:54
  • 3
    It means 'to set something off', especially an angry or excited reaction. It refers to the saltpetre-saturated paper used to ignite fireworks and other explosives. Only 'light the blue touch-paper' is actually an idiom, the other is a mistake.
    – user3444
    Commented Jan 31, 2011 at 20:57

It's an alteration of light the blue touch paper. Blue touch paper is a type of fuse used in explosives. The phrase light the blue touch paper thus gives the imagery of doing something which causes a figurative explosion of emotion.

Blue paper has no special significance, nor does touching blue paper. The closest you could get is touching a blueprint (a construction plan for a building), and there's no special significance to touching those as well.

  • My first thought was the blue/pink result you get from a litmus test, but I have no knowledge of that having any sort of idiomatic usage.
    – morganpdx
    Commented Jan 31, 2011 at 21:03

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