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Close, But No Cigar!

I’m going to assume that everyone has heard the phrase “close but no cigar” but in the case that you haven’t it simply means you were close to achieving a goal but were unsuccessful. Now that we know what it means, does anyone know where the phrase came from? I decided to do a little bit of research on the subject and found the background to actually be pretty interesting.

The phrase “close but no cigar” most likely originated in the United States in the early 1900’s. Instead of giant stuffed animals, cigars were given as a reward for winning carnival games. Carny’s use to tell carnival-goers “close, but no cigar,” if they were unsuccessful at winning.

According to The Phrase Finder “close but no cigar” comes from early slot machines that would award cigars to winners.  While winning a cigar from a slot machine sounds pretty nice, we think winning money is better.

Another source suggests that the phrase comes from former President Woodrow Wilson. However it is known that Wilson use to read penny novels as a child that contained the phrase “close but no cigar,” so he probably wasn’t the one who coined the phrase.

While the actual source is up for debate I think the phrase most likely came from traveling circuses and carnivals, it seems to make the most sense. It’s easy to picture game hosts at an old school carnival shouting out “close, but no cigar,” to try and get people riled up.  So the next time you hear the phrase now you’ll know where it came from!