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In a question from Stack Overflow meta, the questioner has a heading:

This is currently just blue-sky thinking

in which he's tossing around ideas and asking for feedback or a brainstorm, so they can work out what direction might be good to take.

As defined by the Collins Dictionary:

phrase
Blue-sky thinking is the activity of trying to find completely new ideas.
Some consultants are good at blue-sky thinking but cannot translate that into practical change.

noun
creative ideas that are not limited by current thinking or beliefs

Wiktionary defines it as:

Noun
blue-sky thinking (uncountable)

(idiomatic) Thinking that is not grounded or in touch in the realities of the present.
(idiomatic) Open-minded thinking.

I'm wondering how this phrase originated.

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  • It takes an unclouded mind to blue-sky think. "Unclouded mind" appears to originate from a 1765 poem, but I haven't managed to dig up the details on it yet.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jun 3, 2018 at 0:59

3 Answers 3

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blue skies wordhistories from the 1700's.

Then in the 20th century emerged the business jargon:

blue sky thinking

Origin: Some people believe this began as a reference to casual contemplation — back in the days when you’d lie on your back, watching the clouds, pondering random thoughts. The true origin is what you’d expect in a business setting: In the early 20th century, “blue sky” was frequently applied to describe fraud — notably, financiers who would inflate and over-capitalize securities based on nothing more tangible than “blue sky and hot air.” That’s why, today, “blue-sky thinking” is sometimes also described as thinking with no basis in reality.

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  • thanks for this, I figured it would have some history to it. that's really interesting.
    – user163849
    Jun 2, 2018 at 18:32
  • The earliest use of the phrase "blue sky thinking" I've found so far in Google Books is in a 1941 Public Works Conference held in Atlanta, GA.
    – DjinTonic
    Feb 21, 2023 at 19:22
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My only research has been a minute or two of Googling, but I was surprised not to see this answer here. This is referring to basis of the term "Blue Sky" in "Blue Sky Laws" (such as those in my home state of South Carolina) that protect investors from fraud: https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/blue_sky_law

The term “blue sky” derives from the characterization of baseless and broad speculative investment schemes which such laws targeted. The U.S. Supreme Court in Hall v. Geiger Jones Co., 242 U.S. 539 (1917), described the targeted activity as “speculative schemes which have no more basis than so many feet of ‘blue sky.’”

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The 'blue sky' is acting as a simple metaphor here.

On a clear day, when there are no clouds in the sky, if you are standing on an elevation and look into the distance you can see for miles.

On the other hand if the sky is overcast you can not see very far at all, before your vision is impacted by clouds.

The idea is that if you are engaged in 'blue sky' thinking, you will unimpeded in your thinking and able to think many and diverse thoughts, laterally.

Blue-sky thinking is the activity of trying to find completely new ideas. - Collins

You will be able to see far into the distance with your thoughts, much like you can see far into the distance when you look into the horizon of a blue sky.

There is a related question here, (which happens to have been closed) which asks about meaning, as oppose etymology.

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    Hey yes I re-quoted it, just to refer back to the meaning of the phrase in the answer.
    – Gary
    Jun 2, 2018 at 18:03

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