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What Does "in Broad Daylight" Mean?

By Jacob Queen
Updated May 23, 2024
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The term "in broad daylight" is generally used to describe an activity that is performed in a brazen manner. In most cases, the activities being described by the idiom are things that people would normally engage in with a measure of secrecy, and the term is used to make note of the lack of concern about keeping the activity hidden. This phrase is also occasionally used to describe the involuntary exposure of a secret via a third party intervention, such as when a news reporter uncovers something hidden during an investigation, and this would normally be used for some kind of secret corruption or other negative behavior.

Criminal activities like burglary are traditionally performed at night for reasons of stealth, and to some extent, this goes back to ancient times. As a result, most cultures think of darkness as a sort of blanket that hides evil deeds while light is more associated with goodness and truth. The idiom "in broad daylight" is strongly associated with this cultural concept, but it's meaning is expanded beyond just evil deeds. Someone might use the idiom to describe a burglary performed in the daytime, but it could equally be applied to some sort of immodest behavior or anything else that might be considered secret.

Usually, the use of "broad daylight" as an idiom suggests a certain brazen attitude. For example, if a criminal stole a car in front of a whole group of bystanders, the people might say that he was "crazy enough to steal a car in broad daylight." This term might be used even if the actual theft happened at night, as long as it was performed with no concern for stealth.

"In broad daylight" can also be used to describe some kind of socially unacceptable or strange behavior even if it isn't necessarily bad. For example, if someone were to go to the grocery store while wearing a Halloween mask in the middle of summer, someone might say, "I saw a man in the produce isle walking around with a weird mask on right there in broad daylight!" Essentially, any activity performed in public that is strange or immodest in some way might prompt people to use "in broad daylight" to describe it in conversation.

Sometimes "in broad daylight" is used for the purpose of describing an unintentional exposure of a secret. For example, if a reporter discovered a politician had taken a bribe, someone might say that the politician's activities had been "brought out of the darkness and into broad daylight." This usage of the term is generally less common.

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Discussion Comments
By seag47 — On Jun 03, 2012

I work for a newspaper, and I recall a time when a reporter got in trouble for working on her top secret story in a café full of people. She was using a public computer to type up part of it, and that was a big no-no.

Also, there were people walking all around the table where she was working. Any one of them could have read over her shoulder and gotten the scoop before it went public.

The boss asked her if she had lost her mind because she was doing this in broad daylight. She got suspended for a week, and he gave the story to someone else who would give it the secrecy it required.

By OeKc05 — On Jun 03, 2012

Some sex offenders actually would rather do their crimes in broad daylight. This gives them more of a thrill, because the danger of being caught is so great.

There was a man in my town who was sexually assaulting women in a public park in broad daylight. He never did this at night, but somehow, it took the cops a month to catch him in the act.

Everyone was afraid to go to the park during this time. We couldn’t understand how the man could possibly be getting away with what he was doing in the middle of the day like that.

By shell4life — On Jun 02, 2012

@Oceana - I’ve also heard this idiom used by the more modest, older generation. My grandparents say it often in reference to young people wearing skimpy clothing in public.

They just can’t believe that teenagers wear as little as they do to the mall sometimes. When my fifteen-year-old niece came over to their house wearing extremely short shorts and a low-cut top, they asked her how she could walk around in that in broad daylight. They also told her to put some clothes on, and this offended her mother.

People who grew up in a time where it was normal for much more of the body to be covered will probably always take issue with this. They believe that what most kids where out in broad daylight these days should be reserved for the privacy of the home with the curtains drawn.

By Oceana — On Jun 01, 2012

Every time I’ve heard this term used, it is usually referring to something that literally happened outside when the sun was shining. This is the most extreme form of exposure, and it is also the most shocking when someone commits a strange act so blatantly.

I live near a lake, and I have this one neighbor who likes to tan in her front yard. The problem is that her yard is very small, so she is lying very close to the road in her bikini when she tans.

Several of the more modest neighbors were talking about this at the community picnic. They couldn’t believe she would lie out there like that “in broad daylight.” I pointed out that you couldn’t get a very good tan if you weren’t in broad daylight, but they didn’t think it was funny.

By turquoise — On Jun 01, 2012

@burcidi-- You're right, it is a popular movie title. The examples you gave made me think of another movie where a murder had happened "in broad daylight." But it actually had taken place in a bar at night. The idiom was used to refer to how the murder had taken place in front of so many people, so many witnesses but none of them testified with the truth to the police and the court.

So "in broad daylight" doesn't have to be taken very literally all the time. It can be used to describe a situation where something took place out in the open where everyone could see.

In the movie I mentioned, the murderer simply walked into a bar and shot the girl who worked there for all to see and then just walked away.

By burcidi — On Jun 01, 2012

@feruze-- I had never thought about it in that way. I'm not sure if it implies all of that, but I do agree that it has a lot to do with cultural norms.

I learned the meaning of this idiom mainly through books and movies. It's actually a pretty popular movie and book title. One movie with this title is an old, black and white one that my dad has at home. It's about these young girls who were killed in broad daylight and how a policeman tries to find the murderer.

Another one I know is a more recent one that James Van Der Beek was in. It's called "Taken in Broad Daylight." This movie was really good, it was about how every twenty four hours in the US, a child is kidnapped. It's a story about a teenage girl who was kidnapped in broad daylight and who managed to escape safely.

There are also several books with this title, and they all have similar plots of murders happening in broad daylight and sometimes even in front of people and how they are solved.

By bear78 — On May 31, 2012

"In broad daylight" is an idiom that has a lot to do with cultural, even religious norms. I think that it is based on the notion that people need to conform to cultural values. They have to know what is acceptable and what is not in society and act in accordance to it.

Theft is not a decent thing to do whether it takes place at night or in daylight. It is a cultural norm that people be decent enough not to steal. It is also a norm that if someone chooses to steal, that they would do it in a secretive manner showing that they are in fact ashamed of what they do.

When someone does something wrong or inappropriate "in broad daylight," the emphasis is not only on the fact that they are breaking social norms, but also they have no sense of shame to hide it. So in a way, the lack of shame or regret on their part, makes the person and their actions much more wrong and unacceptable.

What do you think? Doesn't this idiom imply all this about cultural norms?

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