I'm not embarrassed, why am I blushing?
January 19, 2005 1:46 PM   Subscribe

What is the difference between the sayings, "at first glance..." and "at first blush..."? When would one use "at first blush..." over the other option?
posted by pwb503 to Writing & Language (15 answers total)
"at first blush" is dated. I would only use it if I was writing a period piece.
posted by smackfu at 1:48 PM on January 19, 2005

Both are dated. Both seem pretty literary/flowery. On first impression is a bit better. Also, I'm not sure the two constructions are truly interchangeable.
posted by ParisParamus at 1:52 PM on January 19, 2005

Before I looked it up, I thought Paris was right about the two not being quite the same, but apparently "blush" can mean "sight" or "glance". Who knew?
posted by nicwolff at 2:06 PM on January 19, 2005

They don't sound dated to me, but maybe I'm literary/flowery. One difference is that there are some things where it sounds funny to say "glance" because you don't glance at them. "At first blush" is less restrictive on how the thing was experienced, and for how long.

"The third movement of the symphony was enthralling at first glance but soon became formulaic."

"I thought the price was $35 at first blush but now I see it's more."

Online dictionaries are telling me 'blush' can meean a glance or view, but I'm not sure if it's because 'blush' once meant that, or if it's their easy way of explaining the meaning of "at first blush". Did 'blush' ever actually mean a quick glance or view, on its own?
posted by fleacircus at 2:48 PM on January 19, 2005

From the OED:

2. A glance, glimpse, blink, look. Obs[olete] exc[ept] in phr[ases with] at, on, etc. (the) first blush: at the first glance.
  a1375 Joseph Arim. 657 Aftur e furste blusch we ne mite him biholden. c1530 LD. BERNERS Arth. Lyt. Bryt. (1814) 494 As the emperour loked in at a windowe..he had a blushe of Florence. a1563 BALE Sel. Wks. (1849) 572 The two horns are like the lambs horns at a blush. 1583 STUBBES Anat. Abus. II. 7 Hir Grace is..able at the first blush to discearne truth from falsehood. 1611 BP. ANDREWES Serm. Nativity vi. Wks. 1841 I. 94 Vidimus. And that not..‘at a blush’, passing by; but had a full sight. 1624 BEDELL Lett. v. 82 This discourse hath a prettie shew at the first blush. 1629 QUARLES Argalus & P. i. 33 And at first blush, she seemes, as if it were Some curious statue on a Sepulchre. a1641 BP. R. MONTAGU Acts & Mon. 402 Looking pale, wan, and meagre, that men might say of them, at the blush, This man fasts to day. 1838 G. S. FABER Inquiry 308 The very vagueness of the allegation..may well, even on the first blush, induce a full presumption that, etc. 1844 DISRAELI Coningsby II. i. 58 At the first blush, it would seem that little difficulties could be experienced. 1886 Bibliotheca Sacra XLIII. 618 This sounds, at first blush, very neat, if not even very profound. 1955 Times 11 May 18/1 It may, at first blush, seem invidious to single out anyone in particular for special comment.

I don't think either of them are at all outdated or "flowery"--they sound like plain old good English to me. Fleacircus shows very well how they're different from one another, I think, even though you'll see the OED lists them together in the definition.
posted by josh at 3:10 PM on January 19, 2005

Pretty great how you can see the change in meaning from thos quotations. Here it is a look unto itself:

As the emperour loked in at a windowe..he had a blushe of Florence.
posted by josh at 3:12 PM on January 19, 2005

The first three definitions in the OED (though notice that all three are obsolete):
†1. A gleam, a blink. Obs.

2. A glance, glimpse, blink, look. Obs. exc. in phr. at, on, etc. (the) first blush: at the first glance.

†3. A look, appearance, resemblance. Obs. exc. dial. In Bk. St. Albans a ‘company’ of boys.
The quotations they list for usage on its own date from 1340, with "at first blush" following soon after: a1375 Joseph Arim. 657 Aftur þe furste blusch we ne mi?te him biholden.

On preview, it looks like I've been beaten to the punch, but I'm posting anyway to justify the time I spent looking for HTML character entities for the thorn and yogh.
posted by stopgap at 3:17 PM on January 19, 2005

I would have guessed that at first glance meant "my first impression", and that at first blush meant "at it's beginning".

"At first glance, he looked older than he is.
"At first blush, the project seemed doomed, but it grew to be a success".

But It's more likely they are merely synonymous, as the OED illustrates.
posted by obloquy at 3:19 PM on January 19, 2005

Sigh. And it looks like MeFi ate my entities anyway. They should have looked like this: þ ⇒ þ and ʒ ⇒ ʒ
I'm just commenting here because this bug has already been discussed in MeTa.

posted by stopgap at 3:34 PM on January 19, 2005

As the emperour loked in at a windowe..he had a blushe of Florence. (the city or a woman? ;)

This is the only one by itself, although apparently there's another quote section... I suppose this is no good for my theory that blush never meant "glimpse" in a true first class sense.

Is 1340 vs. 1375 a wide enough gap to say with much authority that one or the other came first?
posted by fleacircus at 3:56 PM on January 19, 2005

"At first blush" doesn't sound antiquated to me.

But I agree that you would use "blush" when the whole vision thing doesn't come into it and "glance" the other times. Or if you are writing/talking about love or apples or makeup and want to be elegant.
Also what obloquy said.
posted by CunningLinguist at 3:56 PM on January 19, 2005

Am I the only one who has never heard of "At first blush" before now?
posted by rhapsodie at 4:19 PM on January 19, 2005

Response by poster: Thanks for all your help. I don't hear/read "st first blush..." very much, probably about 1 time for ever ten times I hear/read, "at first glance..." Enough times to know that it is a valid saying, not enough times to be able to tell why it being used.
posted by pwb503 at 4:35 PM on January 19, 2005

I would have guessed that at first glance meant "my first impression", and that at first blush meant "at it's beginning".

As would I, sorta. Related to observation (and its cognates) and experience, respectively, would be the way I'd use them.

But I probably wouldn't use 'at first blush' except ironically, anyway.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:53 PM on January 19, 2005

The phrase doesn't seem at all strange to me, and I thought it was fairly common, though not in casual conversation. I'm wondering if there's a connection between the meanings of "blush" in terms of something that occurs suddenly, then fades rather quickly, or perhaps "doesn't linger".
posted by taz at 1:46 AM on January 20, 2005

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