Close But No Cigar

Meaning of Idiom ‘Close But No Cigar’

Close but no cigar is an interjection used to refer to an effort that comes very close to succeeding but does not succeed; a success that is narrowly missed.

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Examples Of Use

“I almost broke the pool record for holding my breath today – close but no cigar.”

“I always feel like I am just about to succeed but then something goes wrong. It’s always close but no cigar.”

“How did you do in the tournament? I placed second in my event – close but no cigar.”


Used since the early 1900s.

This idiom alludes to awarding a cigar to a winner of a competition such as target shooting, or a game of chance or skill.

Another idiom, quite humorous, that has to do with coming close to succeeding but just missing the mark is ‘close only counts in horseshoes (and hand grenades).’

Like the previous idiom, this is used as an interjection and is meant to say that coming close to success but not succeeding is not good enough.

The original shorter version, close only counts in horseshoes, has been used since the early 1900s. ‘Hand grenades’ was added later. Both versions of the idiom are used.

Example: “Listen, we almost won this election!” “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades,” said the candidate.

In the game of horseshoes, competitors toss horseshoes at a metal stake in the ground. The goal is the get your horseshoe as close as possible to the metal stake and even to cause it to get caught on the stake.

Whoever is closest wins. Thus, being ‘close’ but not actually making contact with the stake can still count.

Hand grenades were added for emphasis, alluding to the fact that a hand grenade can do damage in a wide area and does not have to be thrown right on target to be dangerous.

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