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I have an idiom on the tip of my tongue, or at least I think I do — the meaning I want is roughly “to hesitate or falter on a task, when it’s almost completed”. The phrase that first came to my mind was “to balk at the last jump”, but (while certainly serviceable) that doesn’t seem to be an established idiom, nor do any of the variations of it I’ve tried searching for. Can anyone place such a phrase?

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Snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? Turn gold into lead? – bib Mar 30 '14 at 0:24
There's many a slip between the cup and the lips. – Joe Blow Mar 30 '14 at 6:51
up vote 16 down vote accepted

You're very close:

to falter at the final hurdle

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Similarly, you can falter at or stumble over the finishing line. – Shoe Mar 30 '14 at 9:22

To get cold feet

Commonly used for doubts before marriage, but also used for hesitation in completing a task. It has an interesting history, as discussed here: Why do we get cold feet?

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To opt out/ pull out/ withdraw at the last minute OR at the eleventh hour

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To have a (sudden) change of heart might be the phrase you're looking for.

  • It means to have a sudden reversal of one's feelings, intentions, opinions, etc.

E.g. He had planned on retiring and, at the last moment, he had a change of heart.

Or, you might do also with:

To have second thoughts e.g. He had planned on retiring but, at the last moment, he had second thoughts.


To waver in the homestretch.

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i guess "second thoughts" with an s is (more?) common, just BTW. Or "a second thought." People also say confusing variants like "thought twice" "thought twice about it" "thought again" "but then I thought twice" etc. – Joe Blow Mar 30 '14 at 6:48
@JoeBlow Thank you for pointing out, Joe. I actually had second thoughts over "second thoughts". I thought -- obviously erroneously -- that, by analogy with "on second thought", "to have second thought" might have some currency in the US. And so, the source I checked on to support that claim was apparently an exceptionally poor one. I should have tried GoogleNgrams instead. :-) edition.cnn.com/2010/WORLD/europe/05/03/greece.strikes – Elian Mar 30 '14 at 9:10
By all means, "on second thought" is also very common. "to have second thought" would probably not be heard, it would be "to have second thoughts". (But then, there's no real situation in which you'd actually say that tense: you'd say: he's having second thoughts, and then he has a second thought, he had a second thought, he had second thoughts, he suddenly had a second thought about it, he was about to get married but he had second thoughts.) Also heard is: he was about to leave but he thought twice, he was about to buy but he thought twice about it, you better think twice. Etc. – Joe Blow Mar 30 '14 at 9:26
en passant .. que dans mon opinion personnelle 100%. NGrams est complètement inutile, en ce qui concerne, "spoken English". bon weekend de cote d'or! – Joe Blow Mar 30 '14 at 9:29
@JoeBlow Très belle région la Côte d'Or, Joe! Bon week-end gastronomique! – Elian Mar 30 '14 at 9:34

Procrastination covers any first, second, last or any thoughts that you might have.

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