The expression close but no cigar means that a person almost accomplished what they were trying to do, but not quite. In other words, they were close to reaching their goal, but fell short at the end.
Example: Clark was sent to the store to buy a few things. He grabbed what he could remember and brought it all home, then he asked his wife, “Did I get everything?” to which she responded, “Close, but no cigar. You forgot the paper towels.” (In other words, he almost had it.)
Synonyms: 1. by a hair, 2. nearly had it, 3. so close, yet so far
The Origin of ‘Close But No Cigar’
This phrase is believed to come from carnivals or fairs. Why is that? Well, carnivals have various games for people to play. Some of these games test a person’s accuracy, while others are centered more around strength. For example, in the game ‘high striker,’ a mallet is swung at a target and if it’s hit hard enough, a metallic object rises and rings a bell at the top, meaning the player has won. Usually, prizes are handed out to the winners. So how does ‘close, but no cigar’ fit into this? Well, here’s the point:
Apparently, there was a time during the 20th century where cigars were among the prizes that could be won. If this is true, then you might picture the person in charge of a carnival game shouting, “close, but no cigar!” to the players who were just shy of winning the prize. Then later, this carnival-based phrase would go on to become the idiom it is today.
Anyway, that’s the possible origins of this phrase, but how old is it? This expression goes back to at least 1934. For example, it appears in print during that year in a Pennsylvania newspaper called the Chester Times:
“An unseen pedestrian loomed before their headlights, narrowly dodged the sliding wheels. ‘Close, but no cigar,’ the lieutenant shouted.”
- After nearly breaking my personal 100-yard dash record, my coach said that I was close, but no cigar.
- I had a goal of losing 10 pounds by the end of the month, but I fell short of meeting it by 2 pounds; so I was close, but no cigar.
- I was a hair away from defeating my friend in a race; I almost had it!
Tip: If you want to find more common phrases and sayings like this one, use the menu at the top and explore through the list.