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I have seen this phrase do not pass go a couple of times reading Internet forums, but I don't remember figuring it out in context, as I've never played the game Monopoly. What does it mean?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 25 down vote accepted

The other two answers are correct, but they miss a crucial detail which is key to why the phrase has entered popular idiom. The message on the Chance card is worded the way it is to be unambiguous, but the intent is that it is to happen straightaway and no detours are allowed. Because of this, using the phrase outside of the board game means not only "you've failed" but "you've failed right now and you are not allowed any benefits that might ordinarily happen on the way to account or atone for it."

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I think this is key. You’ve failed; you’ve been caught out; there are no appeals; there’s no bluffing your way out. Accept that punishment is coming to you; it’s not worth struggling. –  PLL Apr 15 '11 at 1:03
    
It is the removal of ambiguity which is the key otherwise someone on Mayfair (the last square before "Go" on the UK board could argue that the shortest on-board route to jail is via Go and they should get $200 for passing through. Like telling the kids - go do your homework, don't go and get cookies from the kitchen on the way. –  AdamV Apr 15 '11 at 14:20
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Not only could you infer no detours are to be taken, but the normal rules of advancement [around the board] are suspended. Normally a player's piece advances clockwise around the board, with 'Go' being the one space that normally something occurs (collecting pay) just by progressing past it, regardless of landing on it. In the case of being directed to jail, passing 'Go' will not allow the typical/normal case to apply. –  JustinC Apr 15 '11 at 14:27
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Maybe it's just me, but I don't think this phrase actually has anything specifically to do with failure. For example, "Come straight home after school, do not pass go, do not collect $200". –  GnomeSlice Oct 19 '11 at 15:50
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@GnomeSlice - Right. It is just saying you aren't supposed to do anything else along the way. –  T.E.D. Oct 19 '11 at 17:43

Its a reference to a popular phrase that appears on several Monopoly cards.

In Monopoly you roll dice to advance your piece around the game-board, and at every square on the board one of several things may happen. One square on the board (a corner square) is designated as "Jail" where your piece waits when it is in "Jail" (details don't matter), another square (also a corner square) is designated as "Go", where the pieces start from at the beginning of the game. The game rules stipulate that every time your piece advances onto or past the "Go" square a certain sum (typically 200 monopolybucks) is given to the player (a salary if you will).

If a player picks up a card that tells him to go to jail, the card stipulates that the player's piece goes directly to jail, and stating that you do not pass go and do not collect $200.

Outside of monopoly "Do not pass go" may be a euphemism for going to jail, or something similar. (A contrived example would be a parent telling the child to do the laundry without "Passing Go.") But otherwise it would be helpful if you post the actual usage you heard.

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I would have read it as - "do the thing right now". Do not argue, do not pass go - just do it! –  mgb Apr 14 '11 at 23:46
    
Are there more cards than the go-to-jail card that sport this phrase? –  Tim N Apr 15 '11 at 7:46
    
@Tim - no. Only this card. –  Rory Alsop Apr 15 '11 at 7:58
    
@Tim I believe the rule-book uses the phrase with regards to the "Go To Jail" square –  crasic Apr 18 '11 at 16:02

In the game of Monopoly, every time you pass go you get $200. There is a card in the chance pile that sends you to jail without passing go. The text is "Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200."

So saying "do not pass go" has become an idiom for "not only did you fail/lose, you failed/lost badly" or "not only did something bad happen, but there were bad side-effects as well."

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For additional reference, 'Go' is the name off the starting square on the board. There are other cards in the same Chance deck which advance you to other squares, and if you would pass 'Go' by doing so, you do collect the normal $200. The Go To Jail card is an exception. Card in question. –  Bacon Bits Apr 15 '11 at 1:37

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