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From the practice of giving cigars as prizes at carnivals in the US in the 19th century; this phrase would be said to those who failed to win a prize.


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close, but no cigar

  1. (idiomatic) That's almost correct, but not quite [from 1929]
    Synonyms: a miss is as good as a mile, almost doesn't count
    It was close but no cigar for Johnny as he came second once again.[1]
    • 1929 July 2, J. C. R., “'28's First”, in Princeton Alumni Weekly[2], volume xxix, number 36, page 1166:
      The long distance trophy, an appropriately inscribed silver cigarette case, was awarded to Em Gooch who had made the trip from Lincoln, Neb. for the occasion. Several other members came close, but no cigar, []



  1. ^ [1], Cambridge Dictionary.