Close, but no cigar?

中国日报网 2015-12-01 12:18



Close, but no cigar?

Reader question:

Please explain “close but no cigar”, as in the following lyrics: You came close; Close but no cigar; You didn’t miss by far….

My comments:

Never heard of this song but never mind, the context is clear. “You” almost won, that’s all it means.

To come close is to miss one’s target or goal by a small margin. If it takes a mark of 10.3 seconds to qualify for the Olympic 100 meters dash and you clock a time of 10.35 seconds, for example, then you fail to qualify for the big-time event.

You don’t miss by far, but still, no cigar for you.

In other words, there’s no cigar for you as a victory prize.

“Close, but no cigar” is an American idiom believed to have originated from local fairs and festivals. It’s common to see small toys such as toy bears and cars and pistols given out as gifts and prizes if you win games at a carnival in any park today, but apparently some time ago in America, cigars were given out as such prizes and from that practice sprang the expression, “close, but no cigar”.

One can easily imagine a situation where this expression is aptly usable. In a target shooting game for example, if you hit a given target you are given a cigar as a reward. The next shot, you narrowly miss the mark, and the game manager may say exactly that: “Sorry, you were close, but no cigar.”

Anyways, over time and in due course, cigar has come to become a symbol for victory in some American circles. Red Auerbach, the late Boston Celtics basketball coach for example, had been known to famously light a cigar after a victory. Auerbach did it so often (because his teams won a lot – garnering eight consecutive NBA titles from 1959-66) that his cigar came to be known as the Victory Cigar.

Try Google for example and fetch online a picture of Auerbach and it’s likely a picture showing the man with a cigar in hand and a big grin on his face.

Anyways, Auerbach’s Victory Cigar serves as evidence that in America, cigar is synonymous with wining and for victory.

So therefore, to sum up, “Close, but no cigar”, means exactly that – you’ve come close, but no victory, hence no medal and no victory lap.

Here are recent media examples of “close, but no cigar” and, indeed “victory cigar”:

1. Once upon a time, Darko Milicic was an embarrassingly bad player in the NBA, so bad that he would only get off the bench at the end of an extremely lopsided game. This, of course, earned him the nickname “The Human Victory Cigar.”

Ever since his departure from Detroit, Darko has gotten steadily better to the point where he’s earned a starting role with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He certainly hasn’t lived up to his draft hype, but he’s not an absolute bust a la Kwame Brown at this point.

Because of that, we now need a new “Human Victory Cigar” prowling the sidelines.

There are many types of good human victory cigars, and there are plenty of them in the NBA these days.

First, the top of the food chain of human victory cigars are either draft busts or funny-looking veterans who were never great, but were good enough to stay in the NBA. They usually become fan favorites just for stepping on the floor.

Then there are those veterans who were good at one point, but at this point there is little left in the tank and the only reason they’re still on a team is because a team needs some veteran presence or an emergency big man in case of an injury.

The bottom-tier human victory cigars are those guys who were never very good in the league, but were never so bad that they were out of the league within their first few years or the guys who are borderline D-Leaguers who could be off the team at any minute.

Players will get bonus human victory cigar points if they are goofy looking, have ridiculous hair, are from another country or have funny names.

- Top Human Victory Cigars in the NBA,, January 10, 2012.

2. Laurent Koscielny has been wrongly snubbed. Absolutely shocking how the PFA managed to overlook our French destroyer, with the 29 year old a massive reason for the club’s resurgence in the second half of the season. Only Chelsea and Southampton have a better defensive record that Arsenal this season, which perhaps justifies the inclusion of Ryan Bertrand, John Terry, Gary Cahill, and Branislav Ivanovic ahead of Laurent.

Perhaps, but not quite. For me, Arsenal’s massive improvement with the help of Koscielny should have been taken into account. Arsenal’s defense was rather lousy in Koscielny’s absence if I’m honest, and much of Arsenal’s dramatic rise up the table since his return from injury is down to his good work.

While John Terry is a fair shout for his performances this year, I would be willing to say that Laurent has stood out more than Gary Cahill. And it is not the first time either, Koscielny was snubbed last year for the likes of the same man Cahill as well as Vincent Kompany, despite Koscielny dominating both in interceptions, tackles, and duels won.

He dominates this season as well yet somehow misses out once again. In a way it sums up Arsenal’s season really; close but no cigar.

- How did this Arsenal star not make the PFA Team of the Year?, April 28, 2015.

3. SpaceX pulled off another launch of supplies to the International Space Station on Saturday, but its revolutionary attempt to land the leftover booster on an ocean barge fared less well.

The company’s billionaire founder Elon Musk said the first-stage of the unmanned Falcon rocket made it to the platform floating a couple hundred miles off Florida’s northeastern coast. But the booster came down too hard and broke apart, he said.

Close, but no cigar this time,” Musk said via Twitter. He said it bodes well for the future, though.

- Rocket landing at sea ‘close, but no cigar’, AP, January 10, 2015.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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