What Does Close But No Cigar Mean?

Close But No Cigar Meaning

Definition: (of an attempt) almost, but not quite successful.

This phrase is often used to describe someone who almost wins a game or who almost is correct.

Origin of Close But No Cigar

Most sources believe that this expression developed from a common practice at fairs or circuses. Many of these events had games to test the fair goers’ strength or throwing accuracy, and if the person won the game, he or she would get a cigar as a prize.

close but no cigar originHowever, in the past, just like today, these games were very difficult to win. Therefore, many participants would play the game and be close to winning a cigar, but, ultimately, they were unsuccessful.

This phrase began showing up in the first half of the 1900s and grew more popular from there.

Origin of Close But No Cigar

In this dialogue, the expression refers to two siblings who are playing soccer.

Maria: Ha! I got another goal!

Franco: Yeah, well, I almost caught it.

Maria: Yeah, almost being the key word. Close, but no cigar!

so close but no cigarThe second example shows two university students using the expression to discuss their test answers.

Lorenzo: So how did you do on the latest test?

Alba: Not great. How about you?

Lorenzo: Not too bad, actually! I guess my studying really helped. What was your score?

Alba: Well, I almost passed.

Lorenzo: Almost?

Alba: If I had one more percentage point, I would have passed.

Lorenzo: Close, but no cigar! What bad luck!

More Examples

This article uses the expression both for its idiomatic meaning and a more literal meaning. Literally, the article wants to persuade a regulating group to limit the use of cigars and other tobacco products. Idiomatically speaking, they explain that this group almost did a good job regulating tobacco, but, in the end, they failed.

  • So while I stand alongside other tobacco prevention groups in celebrating our contributions in making this new area of regulation a reality, I must say to the F.D.A.: You are close, but no cigar. –New York Times

This article uses the expression to explain that a former presidential candidate almost won the presidency, but he did not.

  • And, unlike in 2012 when he was seen as the de facto frontrunner due to his close-but-no-cigar bid in 2008, the logic (or lack thereof) for why he would choose to run again in 2016 would make him a puzzle in the eyes of many Republican primary voters. –Washington Post

Summary

The English phrase close but no cigar means that someone was very close to accomplishing something, but, in the end, he or she was unsuccessful.