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I was wondering what is the difference between these two phrases. For me, they both mean very similar and I cannot differentiate between them.

For more clarification, let me provide you with an example:

  1. She closed / shut her eyes to the fact that her son was smoking.
  2. She turned a blind eye to the fact that her son was smoking.

How the above sentences differ in meaning?

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The phrase "to close/shut one's eyes" is not often used figuratively or metaphorically. It most often means to literally close one's eyes. The expression "to turn a blind eye to (something)" is inherently figurative. So in this situation you should use the 2nd version:

She turned a blind eye to the fact that her son was smoking.

  • I cannot understand why "turn a blind eye" sounds better. Could you please tell me more about it @TypelA? – A-friend Oct 10 at 12:25
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    Since "to close one's eyes" is usually used literally, when I read the first version I think of a woman actually closing her eyes. It is then a little jarring when I read the rest of the sentence and realize it's a metaphor for her ignoring something. The version with "turn a blind eye" is not jarring because I immediately know it is a metaphor and that she is choosing to ignore something. – TypeIA Oct 10 at 12:43
  • Just out of curiosity, could you possibly let me know if there is any difference between: "close one's eyes to the truth" and "turn a blind eye to the truth" while I have encountered both versions any times? – A-friend Oct 10 at 14:17
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They both basically mean the same thing.

She refuses to acknowledge the fact that her son was smoking.

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She closed her eyes to the fact that her son was smoking She shut her eyes to the fact that her son was smoking.

The first one uses visual imagery to indicate that when she sees her son smoking, she shuts her eyes, preventing her from seeing it, so she doesn't know he's smoking. Of course, this is silly, as she needs to see it to shut her eyes to protect her belief that he's not smoking.

She turned a blind eye to the fact that her son was smoking.

This phrase has a bit of history behind it. "Turned a blind eye" might better be written "looked at it with unseeing eyes." There is a old naval legend (perhaps real, perhaps not?) of an Admiral that saw the signal to retreat, but believed he could win the battle. So he exclaimed to his Commandant who mentioned the retreat signal that clearly the other ship was signaling something, but he couldn't see it due to his "blind" eye. An Admiral outranks a Commandant, so the ship remained fighting.

In the modern use, the eye isn't considered blind, but rather the observer chooses to deliberately ignore the evidence. In this case, the mother's belief that her son couldn't be smoking leads her to ignore her observation that he is smoking.

  • Well @Edwin Buck, based on what you mentioned, both mean equally the same thing here. Right? – A-friend Oct 10 at 12:23
  • The expression turn a blind eye is widely attributed to the words and actions of the British Admiral Horatio Nelson at the Battle of Copenhagen. When he received an flag signal that he disagreed with, he raised a telescope to an eye that had been blinded. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turning_a_blind_eye – Ronald Sole Oct 10 at 22:55

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