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It's a bizarre expression that I've always taken to describe a situation in which one has very nearly achieved their objective. Where do the roots of this expression lie?

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closed as general reference by Kristina Lopez, James McLeod, tchrist, kiamlaluno, MετάEd Feb 25 '13 at 16:07

This question is too basic; it can be definitively and permanently answered by a single link to a standard internet reference source designed specifically to find that type of information.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

    
There's a flood of hits for "origin of close but no cigar" - the majority attribute the expression to a carnival barker's exclamation when somebody came close to ringing the bell with the hammer in the game testing one's strength. A cigar was apparently a common prize for ringing the bell. –  Kristina Lopez Feb 24 '13 at 19:18
    
With reference to the downvotes, I'm new to this SE site. Is this kind of question not a good fit for the site? –  Zaid Feb 24 '13 at 19:38
    
Your rep in S/O means you most likely understand the sites' requirements to include your own research when you ask a question. Perhaps you can edit your question to include that research. :-) –  Kristina Lopez Feb 24 '13 at 19:47
    
Hum, I guess I'm not used to this domain then. I thought showing what I think it means was sufficient. Oh well.. –  Zaid Feb 24 '13 at 19:53
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Googling origin of close but no cigar returned this, this, and this among the top hits, which might make folks wonder why you needed to ask here. If you weren't so lucky with your first Google query, then you could at least mention what you tried in your unsuccessful attempts to find an answer. –  J.R. Feb 24 '13 at 21:13

2 Answers 2

A cigar, as a luxury, is often awarded and smoked to celebrate a success, in much the same way that champagne is drunk.

The earliest quotation in the OED is from the Cleveland (Ohio) Plain Dealer of March 6th, 1930:

[Bowling] Peters..toppled the maples for 120, 100 and 100. Scott was right behind him with 113, 115 and 117. Close—but no cigar.

I found a slight antedating in the Princeton Alumni Weekly (Volume XXIX, No. 36 - Page 1166) of July 2, 1929:

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, and we trust that all those in New York and Philadelphia who failed to show up, without reason, will read these lines with a quiver.

Barry Popik's The Big Apple includes a brief history of awarded cigars:

A cigar was traditionally one of the rewards at carnivals for winning at games of skill or chance. Coney Island offered many such games in the early 1900s. Most people did not win a prize; for them, the carnival barker would declare: “Close, but no cigar!”

“Close, but no cigar!” is cited in print from at least 1929, but the cigar-prize existed since at least the early 1900s.

A slightly earlier citation is given, from the Long Island Daily Press (Jamaica, NY) of 18 May 1929, as a headline:

Close; But No Cigar

If you are one of those folks who keep a scrap-book of unimportant but nevertheless not altogether uninteresting facts, you might jot down this one brought in by a dirtgetter in Springfield Gardens. It’s about Hugo Straub. Hugo is believed to have set a world’s record in the business of getting-defeated-for-the-presidency. Hugo has finished second in no less than two presidential races within one week.

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@jwpat7: Thanks, fixed. –  Hugo Feb 24 '13 at 20:11

A cigar is given to congratulate the winner. If you didn't win, no cigar.

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