It seems a bit unintuitive to me a road/alley could be "blind". What's the origin of such an expression? When did it first come into use?

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  • It's the same as a box canyon or any of an number of other topographical features. I'd wager there are similar idioms in your language. – Hot Licks Apr 8 '16 at 12:53
  • "Dead-end street" is another term with a similar meaning. – Hot Licks Apr 10 '16 at 2:21

Etymology online defines "eye" as:

c. 1200, from Old English ege (Mercian), eage (West Saxon) "eye; region around the eye; apperture, hole,"

And it's easy, then, to see why there is an eye in a needle or a hurricane. It's a hole through which something (predominantly light in the case of the eyes) can pass.

A blind alley has no passage at the end; there's nowhere to go or pass through; it's "blind".

The Phrase Finder lists the first usage in 1583, in a translation of the Aeneid:

Through crosse blynd allye we iumble.

The first use of the figurative term (no alley involved) is given on several sites as 1874:

...and not be piddling along from year to year in a miserable blind-alley of partisan passion and falsehood, getting weaker and weaker, and poorer and poorer, and madder and madder...

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    I missed that, good finding. – user66974 Apr 8 '16 at 6:28

It is a very old expression, by analogy with the sense of "without sight" referred to a road, alley etc. which originally, according to etymonline, meant "confused", probably with reference to a road that lead "nowhere":

Blind alley

  • The original sense would be not "sightless" but rather "confused," which perhaps underlies such phrases as blind alley (Chaucer's lanes blynde), which is older than the sense of "closed at one end" (1610s).


Blind Alley:

  • The notion of ‘blindness’ comes from the lack of a through passage (the ‘eye’). Attested since 1583, and used figuratively since the mid-19th century.


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    Interestingly Chaucer's line comes from this exchange: "Where do you dwell, if you may tell it me?" (Answer) "Within the suburbs of a town," said he, (105)"Lurking in corners and in alleys blind, Wherein these thieves and robbers, every kind, Have all their privy fearful residence, As those who dare not show men their presence; So do we live, if I'm to tell the truth." It seems here that blind might mean hidden from sight, but that's a guess. – anongoodnurse Apr 8 '16 at 6:32

usually 'blind ' is used where we cannot see. So, people started using for the general sense of ' not able to see or find out '. Blind curve, blind love, blind faith, etc

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