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The meaning and origin of the expression: Close, but no cigar

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Close, but no cigar

Meaning

Fall just short of a successful outcome and get nothing for your efforts.

Origin

The phrase, and its variant 'nice try, but no cigar', are of US origin and date from the mid-20th century. Fairground stalls gave out cigars as prizes, and this is the most likely source, although there's no definitive evidence to prove that.

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One of the undoubtedly American phrases that is now used worldwide.
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It is first recorded in print in Sayre and Twist's publishing of the script of the 1935 film version of Annie Oakley:

"Close, Colonel, but no cigar!"

It appears in U. S. newspapers widely from around 1949 onwards; for example, a story from The Lima News, Lima, Ohio, November 1949, where The Lima House Cigar and Sporting Goods Store narrowly avoided being burned down in a fire, was titled 'Close But No Cigar'.

See other phrases that were coined in the USA.