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Where Does the Phrase “Close But No Cigar” Come From?

Have you ever said something and then done a complete double take and wondered where on Earth that phrase came from?

The English language is full of idioms that we use every day without a second thought. But it’s worth it to see where some of these phrases come from so that you understand why these crazy things are slipping out of your mouth.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Close, but no cigar.” It refers to any not-quite-successful attempt.

It’s well-known, even to people who have no interest in cigars. So where did it come from?

One of the most likely theories behind this phrase recalls a carnival game.file0001270304641

Most carnival games today offer prizes like stuffed animals or other cheap toys. But back in the day in the early 20th century, carnival workers gave cigars as prizes.

That looks odd today – but just remember how much people smoked back then.

Workers would yell “close, but no cigar!” if someone came close to winning. This would likely rile the player up for another go, making them spend more money to play again.

Rumors suggest that Woodrow Wilson, the President of the United States from 1913 to 1921, commonly used the phrase, which he might have found in the penny novels printed at the time.

One of the first known prints of the phrase occurred in the script for the 1935 film Annie Oakley. It said, “Close, Colonel, but no cigar!”

The phrase appeared often in print from 1949 on, often in newspapers. A 1949 story in The Lima News, when The Lima House Cigar and Sporting Goods Store was just barely prevented from burning down, was titled “Close But No Cigar.”

Sources:

The Phrase Finder

Phrase Origins

Idiomation

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