What Does Long Shot Mean?

Long Shot Meaning

Definition: Something with a low chance of success.

Origin of Long Shot

There are multiple origin stories for this phrase, which can appear by itself a long shot or in the negative form not by a long shot.

One origin story relates the expression to early firearms, which were not accurate at long distances. According to this theory, in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a long shot has a literal definition, a shot from a long range.

By the late 19th century, the term had been transferred to other improbable circumstances, such as a wild guess and unlikely betting odds.

This is where our second origin story comes into play, where long shot specifically meant a bet that had a low chance of winning. This theory postulates that the phrase originated in gambling over horse races. Another term for this was long odds. By the 1800s, the meaning of a long shot had expanded to mean anything that seemed unlikely.

A similar expression is not by a long shot, which means not at all, not even close or not even a tiny chance.

There is a possibility that not by a long shot came from mishearing the British expression not by a long chalk. This has the same meaning but comes from a game of darts, in which the highest score on the scoreboard has the highest amount of chalk marks.

Examples of Long Shot

long shot definitionIn the first example, two employees are talking together about the possibility of getting a raise.

Marcus: All the employees are having performance reviews this week. Are you nervous?

Patsy: No, I’m not too nervous. I have gotten very good feedback from clients, and I am meeting all of my goals. In fact, I’m even hopeful that I’ll get a raise!

Marcus: Well, don’t be disappointed if you don’t get a raise. It’s not impossible, but it’s a real long shot.

Patsy: Why do you say that?

Marcus: I only know of one other employee who has gotten a raise at this company since I started working here. That employee was the boss’s son.

what is a long shotIn the second example, a husband and wife are discussing the whereabouts of some jewelry that went missing.

Donny: I can’t find my gold watch. I think the housekeeper stole it!

Alison: I seriously doubt that. She has worked for us for over 20 years! Why would she suddenly steal something from us?

Donny: I guess you’re right. It’s probably a long shot that she would risk a stable job for the watch. But if she didn’t steal it, I have no idea where it could be!

More Examples

This excerpt is from an article about the Mayan civilization and how Spanish conquistadors destroyed all but four of the books written by Mayans. In this example, by a long shot means by a great amount.

  • The Mayans were extremely literate, University of Colorado anthropology professor Payson Sheets said. Not just literate, but the most literate of any new world civilization “by a long shot.” –Denver Post

This excerpt is about new political candidates, who may have had no chance of winning a few years ago, but now have a small chance.

  • Now President Trump’s populist rise to power — honed by his former advisor Stephen K. Bannon — has generated a new wave of long-shot candidates capable of upending the 2018 midterms. –LA Times


The idiom a long shot means highly unlikely.