Take the 2-minute tour ×
English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I watched a movie with English actors just the other day and came across this phrase in the dialogue. What does it mean, and who would typically use it?

EDIT: Sorry, I'm terrible about these ghost edits, but in what sense is the hide in hiding contributing the meaning of the idiom?

share|improve this question

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

As other answers have pointed out, it refers to a situation in which it's pointless to try because it's impossible to win: either you're going to get a hiding, that is, take a (metaphorical) beating on your hide, or else...nothing. There is nothing else. You're going to lose, and you're probably going to lose so badly that your opponent is going to gain nothing from beating you.

share|improve this answer
I liked you answer because the phrase doesn't just mean you aren't likely to win, the major emphasis is actually being beaten in trying to do so and high risk of attempting it. –  sturner Apr 10 '11 at 9:23

To be faced with a situation which is pointless, as a successful outcome is impossible.

More information here

share|improve this answer

If someone is on a hiding to nothing, it means they don't stand to gain anything from their endeavour: in a sporting context, it can be used to mean that they are bound to lose, or that they are so sure to win that the will gain nothing from it (for instance because the bookmakers' odds will be so poor - or simply because there is no prestige to be gained from beating a far inferior team). But its use is not restricted to sport: it can be used in any other context where the prospects are similar.

There is no strong association with any particular class or region, so far as I'm aware.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.