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I know the meaning of this phrase: One should not assume the outcome of some activity (e.g. a sports game) until it has actually finished.

I'm curious as to whether it would more likely be used when

  • the speaker refers to an assumed favorable outcome that might turn unfavorable:

"The Giants are going to win this game, no question!"

"It ain't over till the fat lady sings."

  • the speaker refers to an assumed unfavorable outcome that might turn favorable

"Might as well go home, no chance the Giants are going to win this one."

"It ain't over till the fat lady sings."

Or does the phrase apply to both situations equally?

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Just to be sure... Are we are all aware that the phrase stems from opera? – oosterwal Mar 14 '11 at 17:04
Yes. Figuring that most operas have a tragic end, I figured the phrase might have a pessimistic slant. – The English Chicken Mar 14 '11 at 19:31
I'm not sure if it stems strictly from a trend of operas being 'tragedies' or if it's more of the attitude taken by people who are not fans but are dragged there by spouses, etc. The stereotypic non-fan would be expected to ask, from the opening curtain, "Is it finished yet?" To this question, there can be only one answer... – oosterwal Mar 15 '11 at 19:29
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I'd say that both of those usages are fine and that you could generalize it to "an unexpected outcome might occur instead of an expected one."

I've also heard it used (on TV) to simply mean that the end hasn't arrived yet and you have to wait for it (before you can, for example, go home).

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It refers to either. The meaning of the phrase is that the outcome is still undecided, and whoever is ahead at the moment may still lose, irrespective of which team you are rooting for.

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"It ain't over till [or until] the fat lady sings" is a colloquialism, essentially meaning that one should not assume the outcome of some activity (e.g. a sports game) until it has actually finished.

This implies it can very well be used in either of the scenarios. On a side note do you see the resemblance with "Don't count your chickens before they hatch"?

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I do -- but if I'm counting my chickens, I'm assuming a favorable outcome (1 egg = 1 chick), but not all may ultimately hatch -- so this would be a phrase strictly used in the first case of my question. – The English Chicken Mar 14 '11 at 15:57
Well, if Chick meant only Girls :D Here, don't you think it can also mean that you're expecting a negative outcome, before the actual outcome shows itself? I think the tone is neutral in both the cases. – n0nChun Mar 14 '11 at 16:02

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