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Blow by blow, much like play by play, is an idiom used to describe a step by step process or a detailed description. This phrase also sometimes appears with hyphens between each word. It is a quick way to ask for more or fewer details when another person is giving an account of an event that previously transpired.
A commonly used saying is, “I don’t need a blow by blow description.” This indicates that the person addressing the situation is giving a very detailed description and the person using this expression would prefer a quicker, simpler explanation. On the other hand, someone may wish to know every detail. “Slow down. Give me a blow by blow ; don’t skip anything.”
The phrase "blow by blow" is an adjective meaning that something is explained in minute detail. Etymologists believe the term has been in use since 1933. "Play by play" tends to refer to the description of a game or other similar sporting event. Blow by blow may have originated as a term referencing the sport of boxing, as in “giving a blow by blow of the fight.” "Blow" is a word used to describe a hard strike, such as those dealt by a boxer. Such a description of a fight would be a more literal interpretation although the phrase is commonly used in less than a literal sense like many other idioms.
A blow by blow description does not merely relate details but should also do so in the chronological order in which they occurred. A police officer might ask for such a description in reference to an automobile accident or when interviewing a person who witnessed the commission of a crime. A journalist might also ask for a blow by blow account from his or her sources, or give such a description of an event when giving his or her report.
Idioms also can be, and often are, used as titles. This particular one is the title of a Jeff Beck album as well as a song by Fleetwood Mac. There is also a book entitled, Blow by Blow: The Story of Isabella Blow.
I have a friend who is notorious for giving detailed blow by blow descriptions about everything that happened during her day. If two of her friends had an argument, for instance, she will get on the phone with my wife and go "Well, he told her to make dinner, and she told him to get his own food, and then he told her he didn't want to leave the house, and she told him to make a sandwich, and he told her...". She didn't miss a single detail, even if it all came out in one long sentence.
I understand some people feel like they have to be thorough when they tell a story, but not everyone is necessarily looking for a blow for blow account. I often find myself thinking "Will you get to the point?" when she starts going into one of her long-winded stories.
There are times when I'll ask someone what happened at a company meeting I missed, and that person will start giving me a blow by blow account of every little thing that went on. I have to stop them and say I want a condensed version, not the detailed one. Those kinds of meetings can usually be summarized in two sentences or less. I don't need to know who said what and what was said during that entire hour.
There are other times, however, when I do need a blow by blow account, and I'll make sure the person I'm asking is aware of that. I'll say something like "Give me a play by play report" or "Don't hold back on anything. I want to know exactly what was said."
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