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The meaning and origin of the expression: A miss is as good as a mile

A miss is as good as a mile

What's the meaning of the phrase 'A miss is as good as a mile'?

A narrow miss is as bad as a wide miss - they are both misses.

What's the origin of the phrase 'A miss is as good as a mile'?

The meaning and origin of the expression 'A miss is as good as a mile'.This proverbial saying dates from the 18th century. The first example of it that I can find in print is from the USA, in the journal The American Museum, Volume 3, 1788:

A smart repartee... will carry you through with eclat such as, 'a miss is as good as a mile'.

The expression may or may not be American in origin, but the root source is certainly the British Isles. Similar expressions were in circulation there more than a century earlier; for example, this piece from William Camden's Remaines of a Greater Worke Concerning Britaine, 1605:

An ynche in a misse is as good as an ell.

[An ell is a now obsolete English measure of length, equalling about 45 inches.]

Camden's version is clearly essentially the same phrase as 'a miss is as good as a mile', the dimensions being those of the early 17th century. The expression was also considered proverbial in Scotland by the 18th century, where James Kelly included it in A Complete Collection of Scotish Proverbs, 1721:

An Inch of a miss is as good as a span.

Kelly wrote 'span' as 'spaw', but it is clear what he meant - a span is the distance from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger of a man's hand, usually formalised as 9 inches.

Perhaps more recent changes in dimensions will lead us to 'a miss is as good as a kilometre'. Until then, we will have to make do with the American 'close but no cigar'.

See also: the List of Proverbs.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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