Q: I enjoyed your recent talk at the NY Public Library, but I didn’t speak to you. I see the terms “blindside” and “heads up” often and understand their meanings, but why can’t I find them in the American Heritage dictionary at my office?
A: Thanks for coming to my talk. Next time, introduce yourself!
To “blindside” (or “blind-side”) someone literally means to attack from the person’s blind side, so he doesn’t see you coming. Figuratively, it means to take advantage of a vulnerability or take unawares.
The verb had its origins in US sports writing in the 1960s, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The first citation is from the book Pro Football, USA (1968): “Usually it is the quarterback who gets blind-sided as he is about to pass.”
The next OED citation is from a 1972 issue of the Atlantic Monthly: “That great sportsman … took the cheapest shot of all time when he slammed into (blindsided, as these brave gladiators say) an overexuberant spectator who ran onto the field in a Baltimore-Miami game.”
A more recent reference, from Fortune magazine in 1983, illustrates the figurative use of the term: “Some companies will find themselves blind-sided by competitors they never imagined existed.”
You also ask about “heads up,” a topic I’ve written about before on the blog. I hope you find the posting helpful.
By the way, both “heads up” and “blindside” are in my copies of The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (4th ed.) and Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.).