Come A Cropper

Meanings of “Come A Cropper”

The phrase “come a cropper” means to fail in adventure or venture. It also means to suffer a defeat or fall heavily with a thud, or some kind of failure during an adventure or a task.

Origin of “Come A Cropper”

The phrase “come a cropper” originated in the United Kingdom with a source man, Henry Smith Cropper. Henry was well-known among his circle and worked as the sheriff in Nottingham county. When he entered the printing press, it is stated that the phrase emerged there, for it was used for the people having caught their fingers in the presses.

However, it appeared in various different forms in different writings such as get a cropper, or simply cropper but John Hotten is stated to have explained it properly in his dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant and Vulgar Words. It was published in 1859. Since then, it has always been used in its new standardized shape; “to come a cropper.”

Examples in Literature

Example #1

Difficult to Do by Wilhelmina Stitch

It isn’t easy to admit you’re wrong;
To swallow insult and to face a sneer;
It isn’t easy to sing loud and long
When you are in the clutch of deadly fear.

It isn’t easy, friend to try again
When you have come a cropper-but it’s best.
To scorn a failure and to laugh at pain
Is but to prove that you have stood life’s test.

The above stanzas from the poem underline the theme of this phrase. It means to fail in some venture but the first stanza here is about what is not easy to admit when you fail either in some task or even in singing. However, the second stanza shows the use of this phrase in its literal meanings to argue that you should rather spurn failure instead of success.

Example #2

Come a Cropper by E. M. SCHORB

They head down
In a great slow motion,
As if they are galloping
Into the underworld at some
Suddenly found entrance,
With the amazed boy now
Riding the underside of the huge,
Stunned animal, like a ship’s
Captain on the belly of a ship
Overturned and about to sink,
Waiting for rescued, and nothing
Heard but the horse’s breath,
Which struggled with dry
Hot air, and somewhere inside
That enormous exhausted body
The great heart finding
its rhythm once more.

This poem titled the phrase “Come a Cropper” presents a story of a horse rider, going into the tunnel, comparing it with a ship that is about the sink. However, the interesting point is that both find the rhythm that is like the exhausted body of the horse. The similarity of the horse with the ship is amazing but the more amazing is this extended metaphor used for this failure of the venture.

Example #3

Germinal by Émile Zola

You would need thousands and thousands of years even if it ever did come to pass. So you could stop pestering him with your miracles! The most sensible thing to do, if you did not want to come a cropper, was to behave yourself, make realistic claims, in fact, improve the workers’ conditions at every possible opportunity. That’s what he would do, if he was in charge, he’d make the Company improve conditions.

This excerpt relates the story of Étienne Lantier, a mining worker, and an idealist. Here, another character is making him come to terms with reality and stop watching daydreams. The phrase has been used in its literal sense with a tinge of bitterness.

Example #4

The Wolfpen Notebooks: A Record of Appalachian Life by James Still

All that you can know and are and can be comes together and is concentrated on a single point, like a glass drawing fire from the sun. For all the honor heaped upon its name, poetry comes a cropper on the market. Do you know anybody who has bought a book of current poetry this year? When Ezra Pound challenged a fellow poet to a duel, his adversary suggested that they stand at twenty paces and fire their unsold volumes of verse at each other.

This excerpt believes that whatever may happen, the poetry brings the only failure for a person. He has also presented an interesting analogy to point out this failure, citing Ezra Pound and his fellow poet. However, the use of the phrase shows its literal sense, and hence it is a denotation.

Example in Sentences

Example #1: “Despite his tough routine, hard work, and years of persistence, he has come a cropper in his plan, for the plan was a failure from the very start when he has not included all the ingredients in it.”

Example #2: “Percy’s continuous trials turned into a failure. So, it has been like a come a cropper.”

Example #3: “Despite writing good dialogues and stealing some from Hamlet, he has come a cropper.”

Example #4: “Sometimes I think that this comes a cropper… is really come a cropper…or it is just a name come a cropper that has been used so many times for me….now I do not think about it anymore.”

Example #5: “It’s alright to come a cropper once in a while. Eventually, you will get up and face challenges with new strength and ideas.”