Intermediate+ Word of the Day: bolt

bolt (noun, verb) /boʊlt/ LISTEN

A bolt is a type of screw used to hold things together, a movable side bar used to lock a door and also the part of the lock drawn back by a key. Informally, a bolt is a sudden escape. It is also a thunderbolt or a lightningbolt. As a verb, to bolt means ‘to fasten with a bolt’ and also ‘to make a sudden escape.’ In US English, in relation to politics, it means to no longer support or participate in something. Informally, it also means ‘to swallow food or drink quickly.’

Example sentences

  • Henry put a bolt through the hole and screwed a nut onto the end to fasten it.
  • The door is secured with a lock and two bolts.
  • Neil turned the key and heard the bolts draw back.
  • The prisoner's bolt for the open door took the guards by surprise and he almost got away.
  • Leah always bolts her front door at night.
  • The frightened cat bolted behind the couch.
  • Tom decided to bolt the Republicans and vote for the Democrats.
  • In a rush to go out, Olivia bolted down her dinner.

Words often used with bolt

bolt from the blue: something that happens very suddenly and unexpectedly. Example: “James thought he was doing well at work, so it came as a bolt from the blue when he got fired.”

bolt upright: very stiff and straight. Example: “The loud noise woke me so suddenly, I shot bolt upright in bed.”

shoot your bolt: exhaust all your energy. Example: “The athlete was in the lead for the first two laps, but she ended up finishing last; she shot her bolt too early.”

In pop culture

Bolt is also the title of a 2008 animated movie featuring a dog of the same name. You can watch the movie trailer here:

Additional information

A bolt is also a length of fabric or woven goods as it comes on a roll from the loom (the device used for weaving fabrics.)

Did you know?

Although bolt means ‘escape’ in general, specifically when talking about horses, to bolt means ‘to run out of control.’ Example: “The loud bang of the car backfiring frightened the horse and it bolted.”


Bolt dates back to before the year 1000. Bolt (the spelling remains unchanged since then) originally meant ‘a short arrow with a heavy tip,’ as well as ‘a crossbow to shoot these arrows.’ It can be traced back to the Proto-Germanic bultas, and further back to the Proto-Indo-European root bheld- (to knock or strike). It is related to the Old Norse bolti, the Danish bolt, the Dutch bout and the German Bolz, all meaning ‘bolt.’ The sense expanded in Middle English to other short metal rods (especially when they had knobs at the end). A bolt of cloth took this name due to its long, narrow shape, and dates back to around the year 1400. Meanwhile, thunderbolt dates back to the mid-15th century, and lightning bolt to the early 16th century. Both are figurative senses related to the quick sharp flight and strike of an arrow. The verb comes from the noun and, meaning ‘to ping or make a quick start,’ dates back to the early 13th century. The sense ‘to lock or secure using a bolt’ is from the late 16th century, while the sense of leaving suddently is from the 19th century, a figurative sense related to runaway horses. To bolt down food dates back to the late 18th century.

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