Close, but no cigar - football context

dreamlike

Senior Member
Polish
Hi,

I think I'm familiar with the phrase - we use it when some endeavour came very close to succeeding, but didn't succeed in fact. I think it's usually used in answer to someone's guess and the meaning is "You're almost right". Now, is this phrase best reserved for contexts like that one or can I use it in other instances?

I was playing a football game and almost scored - the first phrase to cross my mind was "Close, but no cigar". Would it be a proper usage? Also, is it solely American expression or one can hear it used on the other side of the pond? ;)
 
  • Bevj

    Allegra Moderata (Sp/Eng, Cat)
    English (U.K.)
    Personally, I've never heard this phrase and I don't think I would understand it without some extra context.
     

    dreamlike

    Senior Member
    Polish
    That's a shame, this phrase has a certain appeal to me and I will have to bear in mind to use it when talking talking to AmE speakers only :thumbsdown:

    Would you have difficulty understanding what I meant if you were standing next to me and watching my playing the football game and almost scoring?
     

    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I've never heard a British football (AE: 'soccer') commentator use this expression in the situation described. When I played football a couple of decades ago, I had never heard this expression in any context. I have now heard this expression, but I don't recall which country the speaker was from. My acquaintances don't use this phrase. I don't use it either, and I don't know how it originated.
     

    dreamlike

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Clearly, it's best avoided in British English :D What expression would you, or your acquaintances, be most likely to use in the situation described, sound shift? "It was so close" or "It was nearly there" are my guesses.
     

    cyberpedant

    Senior Member
    English USA, Northeast, NYC
    Back in the fifties (and perhaps persisting until today) there was a "game" of sorts found in amusement parks and fairs consisting of a vertical board about ten feet tall with a wire running from bottom to top upon which was mounted a small cylindrical projectile, below which was another board which functioned as a sort of lever. Striking the lever with a large mallet sent the projectile up the wire. A sufficiently powerful blow would drive the projectile up the wire far enough to hit the bell at the very top. Ringing the bell won you a cigar. Coming however close without ringing the bell did not win. The barker would often say, "Close, but no cigar."
    This was a favorite phrase of one of my Latin teachers, who often used it when an error in translation was made.
     

    dreamlike

    Senior Member
    Polish
    I like your suggestions, sound shift, but their usage is restricted to one of football context. "Close but not close enough" is more like it.

    Thanks for all your help.
     

    ewie

    Senior Member
    English English
    I know it, but it's only fairly recently impinged on my consciousness (such as it is), and, I'm almost certain, only thanks to speakers of AE:)

    As Paul Q said, Close ~ but not close enough is probably the nearest BE equivalent.
     

    dreamlike

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Doesn't one run the risk of being identified with small-time barker when using this phrase, because of its etymology? :D I take it that the usage of "Close, but no cigar" in US is jocular. :)
     

    LilianaB

    Banned
    Lithuanian
    I have never heard it, but I have only lived in the United States for over twenty years and I do not go to soccer games. It is an interesting phrase. What is its origin? Never mind. I found it: it was a prize in amusement park, a sort of a teddy bear or a lion, if you translate it into modern language.
     
    Last edited:

    pwmeek

    Senior Member
    English - American
    Close, but no cigar almost certainly derives from the game described by Cyberpedant in #8. However, I think it dates back much farther than that. By the 1950s, tests of strength like this were on the wane, largely because they were so easy to rig. The operator could lean against the apparatus and a concealed mechanism would make it difficult or impossible to succeed. Then, the taunting cry of "Close, but no cigar!" would entice the player into paying for another try. At times, a shill would be brought in to "demonstrate" that it was possible to ring the bell (and would secretly return the cigar later).

    AE - I hear it frequently, and use it myself. It almost always has a teasing quality about it, so one should be careful about the circumstances where it is used. It would be quite hurtful to use it when a person has failed at achieving a highly-desired prize. It would be a form of sneering at their failure. Much better to use it when someone has missed throwing a wad of paper into the waste can. Nothing important has been lost.
     

    dreamlike

    Senior Member
    Polish
    Thanks for your detailed answer, pwmeek, and providing the insight into the usage of this phrase. So, the bottom line is that if someone failed to achieve a highly-desired, and, say, deserved prize this phrase might be a little unseem? It's best reserved for rather petty things, if my reasoning is right.
     
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