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Close but no cigar

Posted by Bob on November 09, 2001

In Reply to: Close but no cigar posted by R. Berg on November 09, 2001

: : "Close but no cigar." I think it means "Sorry, but your answer is wrong." But why a cigar? I'm wondering if cigars were carnival prizes at one time.

: Yes, they were. For a right answer, the response is "Give that man a cigar."

: I (in the U.S.) gather from reading that in the U.K. coconuts are or were used the same way. Eric Partridge, Dictionary of Catch Phrases: American and British, from the Sixteenth Century to the Present Day cites a saying "Give that gentleman a coconut."

Specifically, the carnival game was a "test of strength" where a man (trying mightily to impress the little lady) would swing a big mallet onto a lever that would launch a weighted projectile, guided up a rope towards a firebell. IF he was mighty enough, he would ring the bell, and win a cigar. There were gradations of failure, too, with little slogans written on the board behind the rope: "Weakling" at the bottom, to "Close" near the bell. There were (are?) two keys to the carney gag* and its profitability: teenage boys would get into competition, the result of testosterone poisoning, and (most important) the cost to participate was more than the cost of the cigar. *Gags was a carney word for such games, including Guess Your Age/Weight, etc. I knew people who owned an amusement park, and when interviewing the seasonal help, would automatically eliminate anyone who used the word Gag, as it made them morally suspect. They were probably correct in that assumption.

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