A Flash in the Pan (Origin)

Our Story


What Is the Origin of the Saying "A Flash in the Pan"?

Someone described as a flash in pan has made a good early impression but subsequently failed to maintain the same standards. The term derives from the time of early flintlock muskets. When a musketeer pulled the trigger, often the flint would ignite the gunpowder in the lock-pan, causing a flash, but this would fail to set off the main charge. The flash in the pan would look impressive, but it would have no effect, i.e., the musket ball would not be fired.

A Competing Theory

When panning for gold, a miner would often see a glint among the sediment he was filtering in the bottom of his pan. The miner would hope this was a piece of gold, but all too often it turned out to be nothing just a flash in the pan.

Previous and Next Sayings

Test Your Knowledge of English Proverbs and Idioms

Interactive Exercise
Here are three randomly selected questions from a larger exercise, which can be edited, printed to create an exercise worksheet, or sent via email to friends or students.

More Proverbs, Sayings, and Idioms

See Also

What are idioms? What is figurative language? A list of common grammar errors A list of easily confused words A list of sayings and proverbs