The passage below comes from a book, Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly: -

A bright spot presented itself in the form of another man’s problem. A. Philip Randolph, the head of the largest black labor union in the country, demanded that Roosevelt open lucrative war jobs to Negro applicants, threatening in the summer of 1941 to bring one hundred thousand Negroes to the nation’s capital in protest if the president rebuffed his demand. “Who the hell is this guy Randolph?” fumed Joseph Rauh, the president’s aide. Roosevelt blinked.

I'd like to ask the meaning of 'blink' in this context. In a dictionary I find two probable candidates, meaning #2 and #3, but I cannot narrow to one exact meaning between both.
(I am leaning to #3 meaning, to ignore, though.)


  1. to be startled or dismayed (usu. fol. by at):

    ▪ She blinked at his outburst.

  2. to look evasively or with indifference; ignore (often fol. by at):

    ▪ to blink at another's eccentricities.

  • 1
    Possibly easier to be sure if one knows anything more about the dispute and whether Roosevelt did 'open lucrative war jobs to Negro applicants', but I assume it is blinked as in 'blinked first', meaning he lost the metaphorical staring competition. You want meaning #6 in your link.
    – Spagirl
    Mar 27, 2017 at 9:07
  • Roosevelt backed down? It's important to know what happened here.
    – Xanne
    Mar 27, 2017 at 9:15

3 Answers 3


Looking at the wider context for confirmation, we discover that Roosevelt met Randolph's demand

His continuous agitation with the support of fellow labor rights activists against unfair labor practices in relation to people of color eventually led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 8802 in 1941, banning discrimination in the defense industries during World War II.

Therefore 'blink' should be interpreted as per your FreeDictionary link, meaning #6

To waver or back down, as in a contest of wills:
"This was the first genuine, direct confrontation between this administration and the Soviets. It was the U.S.A. that blinked" (Zbigniew Brzezinski).

where it is derived from the idea of a Staring Contest- defined in wikipedia:

A staring contest is a game in which two people stare into each other's eyes and attempt to maintain eye contact for a longer period than their opponent. The game ends when one participant looks away.

A popular variation of the game exists in which the participants not only attempt to maintain eye contact, but also must resist the urge to blink, creating a physical challenge as well as a psychological one.

and ODO

A confrontation between two parties in which neither side is prepared to back down.
‘the federal government has officially shut down, as lawmakers in Washington refuse to budge in the latest staring contest’


I think the real question is this. What does blinking mean in the context of a story? How can an author use it to show the emotion of a character? What does it signify in terms of body language?

This website does a great job of talking about the body language of blinking. It can signal that a character is thinking, or that their current task has been interrupted by an outside influence.

In the context of your quotation, I think it partly signifies surprise. How can Roosevelt not be surprised by such a report? I think it also shows that he is processing this information — it did not just go over his head, and nor did he shrug it aside. He stopped what he was doing to consider what he heard. Thus, in your context, it indicates both surprise and contemplation.

  • 1
    Could the down voter please explain the down vote?
    – ktm5124
    Mar 27, 2017 at 17:45

It's important to understand that there is a game of sorts, usually played between two children but sometimes between adults (often with alcohol involved), variously called "Blink" or "Staring Contest" or "Stare Down".

The two opponents face each other, usually across a table, and stare at each other. The first one to blink (close an eye) loses, generally to a shout of "You blinked!" from the victor.

The context of the quote is a hair ambiguous, but I interpret is as meaning that the two sides were facing off in a contest of wills to see which side would give in first, and Roosevelt was the first to waver in his determination and offer a compromise.

This is analogous to the recent situation between Trump and the conservative "Freedom Caucus" in Congress over the (first?) 2017 healthcare bill. Trump "blinked".

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