Is there a (short) phrase or idiom meaning that someone had extremely bad luck?

In the context of a sports match: as you would have a "perfect game" or the even more specific "perfect hand" (when playing cards); that would mean having such good luck that you couldn't possibly lose. I'm looking for a phrase with the opposite meaning: having such bad luck that the players can't possibly win, no matter what they do.

I'm looking for something with a stronger implication than just "a bad luck streak". For example, similar in meaning to "a terrible game" or "a disaster/debacle", but which also implies that it was based solely on chance, not on the players doing something wrong (the way "terrible" implies).

Is there a way to convey this meaning in a single phrase, without an additional clause or sentence explaining it? Either a general-purpose or sports-related term would do

  • 3
    rotten luck - to have one's luck run out
    – Itsme
    Jul 30, 2014 at 20:51
  • If someone's luck is so terribly bad, they can say "I've been jinxed" - in other words, their bad luck is caused by a curse. Jul 30, 2014 at 20:58
  • 1
    Australian idiom - "Couldn't get a kick in a stampede"
    – Philip
    Jul 31, 2014 at 2:34

8 Answers 8


Depending on the tone of your piece, you could say something like "seemingly cursed", but a more general term would be "misfortunate":


Adjective: deserving or inciting pity; "a hapless victim"; "miserable victims of war"...

Source: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/misfortunate

  • [seemingly] cursed fits in very nicely for what I need, hadn't even thought of that!
    – blgt
    Jul 30, 2014 at 21:35
  • 4
    This does not convey as extreme bad luck.
    – WarrenT
    Jul 30, 2014 at 23:14
  • Which one, "cursed" or "misfortunate"? I think the former does, but the latter could arguably be considered more mild.
    – Liesmith
    Jul 31, 2014 at 17:24

A jinx suggests the idea of very bad luck:

  • A condition or period of bad luck that appears to have been caused by a specific person or thing.

Ex: Jinx strikes again as Fuller is ruled out!


  • And you can also say that they're "jinxed". This is the word I was trying to think of!
    – Liesmith
    Jul 30, 2014 at 21:07
  • 1
    A jinx is not a bad fit, but a curse it feels closer for what I had in mind
    – blgt
    Jul 30, 2014 at 21:37

If you wish to describe a person as consistently unlucky, you can call them a schlemiel. This word is borrowed from Yiddish but is generally understood at least among AmEng speakers in my experience.

(The related word schlimazel is actually closer to your desired meaning, but less well understood, and the difference is difficult to articulate except via metaphor:

The schlemiel always spills his soup.
The schlimazel always gets soup spilled on him.


  • Literally, "shlimazel" means "bad luck" and "shlemiel" means "bad guy". Connotations revise the "bad guy" to something more like "clumsy oaf". Jul 31, 2014 at 0:38
  • As a native British speaker, I've never heard either of those terms. Jul 31, 2014 at 7:53

There's no one word to say that things happened just due to bad luck and by bad luck I mean a misfortunate chain of events of any sort (like a bad hand in cards or strong wind in soccer) non-pertaining to a player of a game of hazard or game of sports which (misfortunate chain of events) has not been triggered by any one playing the game.

to be dogged by misfortune/ bad luck means "to have a terrible game" or "a disaster/debacle", but which also implies that it was based solely on chance, not on the players doing something wrong (the way "terrible" implies).

The whole night I spent at the casino was dogged by bad luck, first I lost all my money and my car got stolen and after that some douche at the casino hotel came at me for something I didn't do.

The project/my life/ the game was dogged by misfortune and bad luck.


Consider perfect storm

A particularly bad or critical state of affairs, arising from a number of negative and unpredictable factors [Oxford Dictionary Online]

While it originally referred to actual storms that were extraordinarily dangerous, it has acquired figurative reference to non-meteorological events as well.

Also consider the phrase falling down the rabbit hole, which can mean finding oneself in

a bizarre, confusing, or nonsensical situation or environment, typically one from which it is difficult to extricate oneself

[Oxford Dictionary Online]

This is derived from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and describes the heroine's stumbling into a very difficult situation.

In current usage, it doesn't necessarily exculpate the victim, but it is often used to describe situations far beyond their control, as in this example

Shoreline residents are finding themselves helplessly falling down a rabbit hole in their Sisyphean efforts to halt beach erosion [Merriam-Webster]

  • Perfect storm means exactly what I described but unfortunately doesn't really fit well for what I needed; as for a rabbit hole I always thought that it's about bizzare and unexplained events, but which don't necessarily have to be negative, do they?
    – blgt
    Jul 30, 2014 at 21:40
  • I think Alice probably had mixed feelings about her tumble.
    – bib
    Jul 30, 2014 at 21:59
  • Perfect storm doesn't work at all. A perfect storm is a series of confounding factors, all occurring at once. While you are indeed unlucky to have all those things happen at once, it's perfectly possible to be very unlucky without lots of bad things happening at once. One day, you might be late for work because the car broke down; the next day because your child was sick; the third day because of heavy traffic; the fourth because your alarm clock broke. That's very unlucky but not a perfect storm: the perfect storm would be all of those things happening on the same day. Jul 31, 2014 at 7:52

I use "the luck of Job."

You know. The biblical Job who started rich but lost everything.

  • 1
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    – user140086
    Dec 6, 2015 at 7:03

Oh mostly I use s**t has hit the fan. For example

"I was not cheating on you, I was out with Johnny that night!" He said.

"I was with him and Sheryl then, you bloody liar." She replied

"Oh s**t has hit the fan now," said a bystander in the ever increasing crowd to watch the argument.


Consider, star-crossed

In the phrasal adjective star-crossed, cross carries the relatively rare sense to betray or thwart, and star refers to the astrological belief that stars guide people’s destinies. So star-crossed means opposed by fate or destined to misfortune [...]

The phrase apparently comes from a line in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet:

From forth the fatal loins of these two foes, A pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life.

But star-crossed also appears, without lovers, as a synonym of ill-fated or beleaguered.


The former UT quarterback picked medicine over football. McBath was a talented but star-crossed player. After leading the Horns to 184 points in the first three games of his sophomore year, he suffered a broken ankle in the Oklahoma game.


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