Close But No Cigar

Meanings of “Close But No Cigar”‎

The phrase “close but no cigar” means that somebody has reached the close, yet he has achieved not what he has expected. It may be a reward, prize, money, or goal. In other words, it means to fall short of a successful result.

Origin of “Close But No Cigar”‎

The phrase “close but no cigar” is stated to have originated in the United States in the mid-20th century. It also has a variant “nice try but no cigar.” The initial recorded use of this phrase was in Annie Oakley’s movie version published in 1935 where it goes thus: “Close, Colonel, but no cigar!”

Examples in Literature

Example #1‎

Close But No Cigar by Thomas Dolby

You came close
Close but no cigar
You didn’t miss by far
You know you came this close
Close but no cigar
No matter where you are
You know you came this close
Close but no cigar

I Remember, I Remember, I remember
The promise in your eyes
As black as the night I drove you to the airport
And I remember, I remember, I remember
The wide Brazilian sky that swallowed you

These two stanzas describe the singer telling his friend that he is close to the goal but has not achieved it as yet. The phrase “close but no cigar” has been repeated four times in this stanza to stress this close shave. The second stanza states that the singer remembers that his friend has promised him that he would come from Brazil. These two stanzas show its use as a repetition as well as a simile “as black as the night.”


Example #2‎

Close But No Cigar: A True Story of Prison Life in Castro’s Cuba by Stephen Purvis

This is the autobiography of a Cuban dissident who turns to the modern world against Cuba but is caught in the conflictual world of ideas. He has to undergo severe torture and brutal treatment in Villa Marista, the infamous torture center in Cuba when he is arrested and interned in Cuba. During his imprisonment, he has had a close shave to be declared a spy and meet his end, but he saves his skin merely through his grit and confidence in his abilities. Although the memoir seems a thriller as well as a comedy, it shows his morality story as well, where he has reached the point that could be a close shave but not the final goal of liberating his country from the communists.

Example #3‎

Close but No Cigar: Humor and Homicide with LP Cinch by Jack Mannion

Unless you’ve been around for a while, the phrase “close but no cigar” is probably meaningless to you, but for an old-timer like LP, the term is very descriptive of his present state of mind. Years ago, there was a particularly popular game of skill and strength at carnivals and amusement parks. In the game, a man could show off his brute strength to his ring a gong by slamming a sledgehammer down on a board hard enough to send a ball up a fifteen-foot pole and ring the gong at the top. If he succeeded, he received a cheap cigar and maybe a pat on the back. Failure meant he was seen as a bit of a wimp and a loser.

The excerpt occurs in the book of the same title by Jack Mannion. The phrase in the first line, where Jack gives its meanings with respect to LP. He is of the view that it demonstrates the old game of showing the brute force through a sledgehammer that the hitter used to get a cigar. Therefore, this phrase has been used in an ironic sense.

Example #4‎

Close, But No Cigar: Six Easy Steps to Solving Business Problems by Ian Woodrow

Most of the solutions, whether they are of the business or life issues, first seem quite superficial and are polished and streamlined with time. Ian Woodrow has beautifully applied this approach of CIGARS, a six-stepped method to avoid some mistakes, clearly distinguish problems, develop a solution, effectively evaluate the benefits, and ensure that the best solution is implemented. He has also used these solutions in his life as well as in organizations. Therefore, the use of the title signifies the use of this phrase as a connotation after a comma is placed after the word “close.”

Example in Sentences

Example #1‎: “You are quite close, but no cigar, as you still have to cover almost 20 kilometers.”

Example #2‎: “Most of my friends have left. However, almost all are kicking and alive. Some have achieved their goals, while others are like close but no cigar.”

Example #3‎: “Before reaching the other side of the bank, their raft stopped after it was attached to a branch of a tree. The hanging branch went deep into the water, where it felt like close but no cigar.”

Example #4‎: “Despite my best efforts, I was close but no cigar, but I am not disheartened. I have resolved to come back next year with rigor and hard work.”

Example #5‎: “Randy has worked hard all his life but luck never seemed to favor him. Maybe that was the reason why he was always like close but no cigar.”