To almost do something successfully, but not quite; nearing a success only to fall short at the end.
Thus, someone might tell Clark that he was “close, but no cigar.” In other words, he almost had it.
The Origin of ‘Close But No Cigar’
This phrase is believed to come from carnivals or fairs. Here’s why:
Carnivals have many different games that can be played. Some of these games test the player’s accuracy, while others are based more around strength. For example, you might be familiar with a classic game known as ‘high striker.’ It’s a game where the player takes a mallet and swings it at a target on the ground. If the target is hit hard enough, a metallic object rises up and rings a bell at the top, meaning the player has won.
Usually, fair games have prizes that are handed out to the winners. The most common prizes include things like large stuffed animals or other kinds of toys. Now, 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 can 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 went on to become the expression it is today.
Anyway, how old is this phrase? It goes back to at least 1934. It appears in writing 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.”
- My brother had a goal to lose 10 lbs by the end of the month. Well, the month just ended and he lost 8 lbs, so he was close, but no cigar.
- After nearly breaking my personal 100-yard dash record, my coach told me “close, Mike, but no cigar.”