TRIVIAL PURSUITS: From Where Did the Phrase ‘Close, But No Cigar’ Originate?

When someone comes close to winning or accomplishing something but doesn’t actually do so, a person may say, “Close, but no cigar.”

From where did the phrase “Close, but no cigar,” originate?


One source says it comes from a tradition in golf where other players buy a cigar for someone who make a hole-in-one.


However, most sources agree it was first coined in the United States in the late 19th or early 20th century at fairgrounds. While the fairgrounds of today reward people who succeed at the nearly impossible games there with stuffed animals and other trinkets, the fairgrounds back then were mostly focused on parents and the prize was often a cigar.


Most etymologists think it likely that the phrase originated from when someone came close to winning one of the nearly impossible games, but ultimately lost, earning “no cigar.” The game workers would belt out the phrase trying to draw crowds and encourage the person who got close to try again.