Note: The definitions for most sayings can be found with little effort, but finding the origins of phrases proves far more challenging. Looking back through history, it's tough to pinpoint exactly the place or person in which a phrase has its roots. I try to find the oldest known written recording of a phrase, and these usually come from old books, poems, newspapers, and plays.
Sometimes, though, what I quote will not be the earliest known use of a phrase. For example, if a newspaper from the year 1942 and 1945 use the same saying, I might decide to quote the 1945 newspaper instead because I like the wording it has better than the 1942 newspaper. Still, this gives the reader a good indicator for how far back in history many of these idioms and phrases go.
Failing to recall a memory; being unable to remember something.
This common idiom is sometimes used to refer to a person who fails to remember something.
This phrase is believed to come from old lotteries from, or around, the 16th century.
Apparently, lotteries back then worked something like this: There were two containers; one container had lottery tickets placed inside of it, which may have had the names of the participants written on them. The other container held the tickets or notes that had the prizes written on them. When it came time for the lottery to start, a lottery ticket would be drawn from the first container, followed by a prize being drawn from the second container. Well, some lotteries had blank prize notes, meaning that if a blank was drawn, then the person would win nothing.
So, if this expression does originate with old lotteries, as it is believed, then it seems that the idea of drawing blanks in a lottery and receiving nothing as a result eventually went on to be applied figuratively to people who try to think of something, only to come up empty-handed.
* Billy was drawing a blank when he attempted to remember the time of his doctor's appointment.
* Someone asked me if I remembered them from my high school years, but upon looking at their face, I was left drawing blanks.