Suppose there are many people standing in a line to receive an expensive item as a free gift, and everyone receives it except for the last person in the line. The last one is told, "Sorry, the gifts are finished!". This person complains of his bad luck and says (sarcastically):

Oh, no! Now that it's my turn, all the gifts are finished. I don't believe it!

In situations like these, we Iranians have a saying:

Now that it's my turn, the sky fell down.

That is, the worst possible thing happened, and I lost the opportunity. It implies that once I reached the stage of almost realising the opportunity, the situation/condition changed completely, all of a sudden and unbelievably, and this is only because of my bad luck!

Is there any idiom, expression or proverb that conveys a similar meaning to that Persian saying?

I am looking for something that is more general, something that can be used in any situation in which an (important) opportunity has been lost just because of bad luck. This Persian saying places the blame on the bad luck of the given person—someone so unlucky that even the most impossible outcome (the sky falling!) happens just at the moment that they expect to achieve something and causes them to lose a good opportunity.

In my example, that person was very unlucky: if his turn was only one person ahead, or if there was just one extra gift, he would have received a gift. So, he says: "The worst thing happened only to me out of all those people! D**n this luck!"

  • 5
    Perhaps Anglophones are just more optimistic. The first "finally reach the head of the queue" saying that comes to mind for me is the one often linked to London Buses - you wait for ages then three come along at once. You could try inventing your own: The cashpoint always runs out of money when I get to the top of the queue. Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 13:05
  • 7
    Not quite the same but there's an English expression we use in the US, "if it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all!" :-) Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 13:22
  • 6
    I just found an idiom: "to draw the short straw ", could it be a proper option?
    – Soudabeh
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 13:50
  • 6
    Alanis Morissette’s song “Ironic” contains a lot of cool expressions of ironic misfortune that kind of capture the notion, but I don’t think any of them are well-known enough to qualify as idioms or proverbs (as a smoker, I particularly ‘like’ (empathize with) “[Finding] A ‘No Smoking’ sign on your cigarette break”).
    – Papa Poule
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 15:18
  • 13
    @PapaPoule - except that most of the song is about events that are not ironic in any way shape or form... which is, if you think about it, a bit ironic!
    – AndyT
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 15:37

29 Answers 29


Just my luck! (humorous)
something that you say when something bad happens to you So he left five minutes before I got here, did he? Just my luck.


  • 3
    Regarding to the votes, I think that this answer is more acceptable and understandable to others, actually I think Tushar Raj's reply has the closest meaning to that Persian saying, but since it seems to be used only by British people, with respect and acknowlgement to Tushar Raj, I choose @Hugh's answer! I'm really really greatefull to all the people who gave their precious time to replying this question! :)
    – Soudabeh
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 19:30
  • 2
    @Soudabeh I think Tushar Raj is saying, Sod's law ! :) Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 2:09
  • 2
    Yes, exactly, "f there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong", and for a person with bad luck, it is always like that!, ( always the worst possible thing happens to them not others!, and in that Farsi saying, the person complains that always the most impossible (bad) thing happens and causes him to lose the opportunity).Thanks for your comment! @happybuddh! :)
    – Soudabeh
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 4:00
  • 1
    @Soudabeh - Actually I'd argue that principle for anyone. After all, you don't really notice as much when the worst possibility doesn't happen like you notice when it does. But this isn't the stack for philosophy.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 13:27
  • It may be used in a similar situation, but doesn't quite ring true for me. The Persian version is a metaphor, whereas this is more of an exclamation - more akin to "damn it!"
    – Misha R
    Commented Jul 12, 2015 at 15:27
  1. So near , yet so far

  2. Close but no cigar

  • These do not have a connotation of bad luck, but do capture coming close to a goal without realizing it.
    – Muhd
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 20:12
  • 4
    Close but no cigar is not quite the same. It implies that the person has made an active attempt at something but that the performance was inadequate or lacking - that it failed, perhaps just, to produce a useful or correct result. For example, building an elaborate leverage contraption to lift a large stone up a step, getting 90% of the way, and then having the stone roll over and fall back down. Also, for example, answering trivia with a nearly correct answer, missing a bullseye by fractions, etc... anything almost, but not quite, good enough to achieve a goal.
    – J...
    Commented Jul 11, 2015 at 10:59
  • 1
    Hello, moonstar. I see you rolled back an edit; I get that it's slightly / very annoying having one's post radically modified and reformatted, but truth be known, yesterday's edit helped strengthen your answer. Links can rot, and visitors will only be left with two phrases. Consider also how many non-native speakers we have, and you can see what the problem might lie. Really good answers are self-contained on EL&U. Not that I'm 100% against simplicity, but sometimes a little extra detail goes a long way.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Jun 21, 2016 at 6:55

Not exactly a proverb, but there is:

Sod's Law

Sod's law is a name for the axiom that "if something can go wrong, it will", with the further addendum, in British culture, that it will happen at "the worst possible time" (Wikipedia)

It's like Murphy's Law, only worse.

Something could have gone wrong. (You could've not gotten a gift.)

It did. (You didn't get a gift, after all.)

At the worst possible time. (Just when you were next in line.)

  • Commander J. Murphy USN was a procurement officer for the US Navy in the 1930's. Murphy's Law: "If an aircraft fitter on one of our carriers can re-install a serviced component wrongly, then one day he will." also Murphy's Law ("If anything can go wrong, it will") was born at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949 at North Base. It was named after Capt. Edward A. Murphy, an engineer working on Air Force Project MX981,” quuoted from “All the Laws of Murphy in one place.” murphys-laws.com/murphy/murphy-true.html
    – Hugh
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 13:55
  • 8
    I think this is the exact correct answer (certainly for the UK). It is exactly what I would use to explain to my wife that I had not brought home a gift- "I just got to the front of the queue, and bloody Sod's law, they ran out of gifts!"...
    – Marv Mills
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 14:56
  • @MarvMills: Thank you. I think the other answers aren't specific enough. Good to have it seconded.
    – Tushar Raj
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 15:14
  • 8
    I like it, but I'm unfamiliar with the saying (I may have seen it before on a list like Hugh's, but I haven't ever used it or heard it used). Either its not very common, or its a Briticism. I'm pretty sure if I just referenced "Sod's Law" here in the US, I'd get nothing but blank stares. So whether this is good to use probably depends on who your audience is. Given that the OP used "line" instead of queue, I'm guessing they want it understandable to US speakers.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 17:19
  • Is this where the super-british "Sod it all!" comes from?
    – talrnu
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 17:49

For your "Day late and dollar short" PS: Yes, that is far closer of a idiom than any of the answers I see here thus far.

The biggest problem is that it doesn't have anything specifically to do with a line (queue), or "turns". However, none of the other options presented thus far do either.

What it has over all of them is that it implies there was primarily an issue of timing, where the others don't really. After all, if you showed up early enough to get one place up in line, you would have been OK.

However, there is still a big cultural difference here, in that this statement places the blame on the person, not on the universe at large (which the other answers all do a better job of).

Also, the "dollar short" doesn't quite apply. If I show up at the place without the proper form of payment (you don't take personal checks or credit cards here?), and then they close before I can get back to the front of the line, then it would be perfect.

Still, I typically hear it used in contexts where either the "day late" or the "dollar short" doesn't apply, so you wouldn't be applying it any worse than a typical English speaker does.

  • +1, good explanation, None of the answers above have anything specifically to do with a line (queue), or "turns".
    – Misti
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 16:46
  • 6
    Don't be too literal with the "day" and the "dollar", the main beef I have with this answer is, as you point out, it places the onus for the lost opportunity on the person, not on luck. The idea is that if only they were slightly better prepared, they'd have made it.
    – Jason
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 17:46

"If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all!"

This expression is commonly used for scenarios where someone feels like they only have bad luck. The situation described by the OP is an example where someone thinks they are going to have good luck, only to realize that the only luck they are having is bad.

The expression has been used in a book title:

"If it Weren't for Bad Luck ...: A Study of the Ways the Major Newspapers Frame Stories of Racially Comparative Risk" - by Oscar H. Gandy

and in song lyrics:

GLOOM, DESPAIR AND AGONY ON ME From the TV Show "Hee-Haw" (1969 -1992) by Buck Owens & Roy Clark

First verse:

Gloom, despair, and agony on me

Deep, dark depression, excessive misery

If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all

Gloom, despair, and agony on me

  • 3
    Albert King beat that by a bit (1967) in Born Under a Bad Sign, recorded shortly after by Cream: youtube.com/watch?v=x5u8aARWAv4 And even earlier it's in Lightnin' Slim's 1954 swamp blues song "Bad Luck Blues".
    – Alan
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 17:41
  • 1
    yeah, and it's "If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all"
    – Jason S
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 19:57

"I can't win for losing"

From Dictionary.com:

Someone seems entirely unable to make any sort of success; someone is persistently and distressingly bested : We busted our humps, but we just couldn't win for losing (1970s+)

Typically, someone says this after doing everything correctly to the best of their ability, and failing anyway. That seems analogous to standing in line, patiently waiting your turn, and then being denied the reward arbitrarily.

  • Very good!+1, now I have many good answers to my question! Choosing the best one became difficult!:) thanks a lot!, @WithScience!
    – Soudabeh
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 16:48

(All gifts were finished, the situation/condition changed dramatically!)

Pure chance, as in It isn't anyone's fault—it's just the luck of the draw. This expression alludes to the random drawing of a playing card. [ Mid-1900s ]

luck of the draw : means that it is the result of pure chance, with no possibility of choice.

  • The samples distributed varied in size and value; it was the luck of the draw.


And my personal favorite is "the Jinx strikes again".

  • 1
    +1 because I like the "the jinx strikes again" though I've not heard it before. The "luck of the draw" is, of course, the luck of how that person got his place in line because the gifts were given to every person in line until they ran out - not really randomly. How and when the unlucky person came to be in that exact place in the line is random, though. Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 15:54

In Britain we say "Typical!" and throw our hand up in the air. That basically means the same thing, although it's a little context-sensitive.

  • Interesting! +1, can you give an example, please? @Nagora!
    – Soudabeh
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 12:59
  • 3
    The person in front of you withdraws money from the ATM; you step up to it and the screen reads "This machine can not dispense cash". "Typical!" and walk away
    – Nagora
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 15:45
  • 1
    This I think is more idiomatic, and reflects the frustration/resignation tension in the OP's phrase better.
    – CLF
    Commented Jul 11, 2015 at 15:43

Snatch defeat from the jaws of victoryTFD

To fail, lose, or be defeated despite the appearance that one would be victorious, especially due to a mistake, error, or poor judgment. (An ironic reversal of the more common "snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.").

"We were ahead by nearly 20 points with less than half the quarter remaining—how on earth did we manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory like that?"
"The candidate has led in the polls right up to election day, but with that unfortunate remark last night, he may well have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory."

  • 7
    I've always liked that phrase, but to me it generally means that you did something to defeat yourself rather than having the universe conspiring against you. Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 18:14

The English equivalent of the Iranian saying is:

There is many a slip between the cup and the lip

Even when an event seems certain to happen, there could be slips which prevent its occurrence in a totally unexpected manner.


  • No, this does not reference the fact that it is the speaker who is affected. Commented Jun 29, 2016 at 0:38

The saying:

It always rains on my parade.

... comes to mind.


Always the bridesmaid, never the bride.

It's the commonly used variation of a slogan for Listerine mouthwash, "Often a bridesmaid but never a bride." Snopes.com has an elaborate entry for it that includes a reproduction of an ad with the slogan.

The sentiment apparently came from an older (1882) saying, "always a maiden, never a wife," according to The Facts on File Dictionary of Proverbs.

It doesn't have to refer to weddings. It's for anything one comes close to, but misses. Intrinsically it has more to do with one's worth than one's luck, but it serves in luck-based situations. It can be said of and by men, too, to humorous effect.


I'm surprised this hasn't come up yet, which expresses the irony:

So near, and yet so far

Though less relevant, here are a couple more related to not winning, whether through bad luck or lack of skill

A miss is as good as a mile

The winner takes it all

  • I agree that your 2nd and 3rd items are much less relevant (if at all). Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 7:02

Although I don't find it listed in books of English idioms, the expression "late to the party" comes up frequently in everyday speech and seems very much on point here. Basically the idea of the expression is "I'm [or You're or He's or She's] late to the party and the best of it is over." People sometimes use "late to the party" metaphorically to mean that someone's contribution to a discussion or process is offered too late to be of any practical use.

Another expression with similar implications is "That train has already left the station," meaning that the opportunity that had existed is now gone.


"I drew the short straw."

This is a reference to how people might randomly assign an undesirable task by taking a number of straws, cutting one to be shorter, and then having each member of the group draw. Whoever draws the short straw has to perform the undesirable task.

Used metaphorically, it means that, among a group of people, you were randomly the unlucky one.

  • Good! +1 Thanks, it's completely appropriate and applicable to my example!, @Caleb Bernard!
    – Soudabeh
    Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 5:29

One reply you'll sometimes hear is, "Story of my life", which is shorthand for something like, "The story of my life is bad things like this happening to me."

Here's an example, via Google Books:

[…] “She left a letter for Marc.” He made a face. “Nothing for you, André, sorry.”

“Story of my life,” André mumbled good-naturedly.



Taking it in a different direction from other answers: someone in this scenario might exclaim "Ah, shoot, that figures."

Literally, it means "I shouldn't be surprised that this happened." It's an expression of the person's awareness of their own bad luck and that this experience is clearly an instance of that.

Alternate forms include "Go figure" and "I should have known (better)".

If you prefer a phrase that doesn't imply a degree of acceptance or understanding of the misfortune, then consider "Well doesn't that take the cake?" This phrase alludes to contests in which the winner's prize is a tasty dessert like a cake. It implies that, were there a contest for "worst experience of the day/of all time" in which this experience was a contestant, it would win the prize cake. In other words, it's a silly way to say "This is the worst experience ever."


If you don't mind being a bit crude, you could use

Shit end of the stick

Example: "Out of tickets? I always get the shit end of the stick!"

or the toned down

Short end of the stick

A situation, opportunity, or outcome which is less favorable than situations, opportunities, or outcomes experienced by or available to others.

Although a strict definition of these relates to getting the bad end of a bargain, they are often used to convey bad luck.

There's also

Shit out of luck

Completely out of luck; in unfortunate circumstances such that all options for achieving one's goal are exhausted; unlucky; screwed.

"There are no tickets left. I guess we're shit out of luck."

  • Also the fuzzy end of the lollipop, which was used by Marilyn Monroe in Some Like it Hot.
    – dangph
    Commented Jun 20, 2016 at 0:45
  • You forgot "Up Shit's Creek without a paddle" but that's more like finding yourself suddenly in an undesirable predicament with no recourse. Commented Jun 27, 2017 at 22:57

Close (Colonel) but no cigar. I think the following case fits to your ‘standing in the line and kicked out of the winning chance.'

The Guardian (April 4, 2012) ran the following article under the headline, “Giant pandas fail to mate," which follows:

The unsuccessful end to one of the briefest but most eagerly hyped trysts in conservation history was announced with a short statement from Edinburgh zoo: their giant pandas had failed to mate. The press release headline said simply: close but no cigar. It had started so well. The panda cams were switched off, the doors carefully locked to outsiders and the "love tunnel" opened. But in the end, despite repeated five-minute bouts of foreplay and coupling in the female's enclosure, Tian Tian and Yang Guang will have to wait another year.


How about "Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades", meaning with many objectives in life, it doesn't matter how close you were to winning, losing is losing! (However a hand grenade can still "achieve your objective" if it blows up near your target, and likewise with the game of horseshoes where players compete to toss horseshoes around a post.)

  • Modified my post, hope this helps. Hmm, not sure about the origin of this saying.
    – RobertF
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 16:16

How about: "I won the lottery on the day they ran out of money."

  • 1
    Right now it's a quote since I just coined it, but it could become a saying, I suppose... Thanks for the +1 :)
    – EM Fields
    Commented Jul 11, 2015 at 13:43
  • I see. and you're welcome! your answer deserved that! :),@EM Fields!
    – Soudabeh
    Commented Jul 11, 2015 at 14:19

Another variation of "Just my luck" is, "it figures." Like, when it's everyone else's turn, everything is great, but when it's your turn, it figures something has to go wrong.

"Just my luck" is kind of dated and hokey, and unless you're older, you may draw a comment about this. "It figures" is more mainstream at this point.

Generally people express it as "figures" and often pronounce it "figgers," even from more northern states.

  • @Soudabeh "of course" is a sarcastic but less downer way of saying this as well. It can be used interchangeably.
    – jfa
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 15:46

"Why does this always happen to me?" is a common expression referencing the speaker's belief that s/he has consistently, exceptionally bad luck.

It is used as the title of a psychological life game by transactional psychologist Eric Berne.


I don't know if this is a saying or an exclamation (or the difference between the two really), but here in the USA, you might hear "That's not fair".

(with the response to that being "Oh well").

Probably with equal probably-ility would be "D'oh!"

  • Intersting! +1 It conveys the complaining, but does it convey a bad luck,too? @Jim!
    – Soudabeh
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 17:13
  • @Soudabeh If you waited in line and your were the only one that didn't get the prize that everybody else got, it wasn't fair and it wasn't your lucky day. I think "fairness" and "luck" are intertwined in that we all believe in them, but neither actually exists.
    – Jim
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 21:36
  • Good interpretation! , yes, you are right! ;) , @Jim!
    – Soudabeh
    Commented Jul 8, 2015 at 23:02

All dressed up with nowhere to go

  • @Soudabeh: I think it is just an expression that has been around awhile. A quick internet search led me to this: link
    – DSKekaha
    Commented Jul 13, 2015 at 15:26

"As soon as you light a cigarette, the bus comes."

A close conceptual double of the Persian phrase, I think.

  1. There's a Britishism that is probably not widely used: "that's torn it"

That's torn it - (British, slang) an unexpected event or circumstance that has upset one's plans

Here's a poetic quote (Wilfred Owen, "The Chances")

I mind as 'ow the night before that show
Us five got talkin,—we was in the know.
"Over the top to-morrer; boys, we're for it,
First wave we are, first ruddy wave; that's tore it."
"Ah well," says Jimmy,—an' 'e's seen some scrappin'—
"There ain't no more nor five things as can 'appen,
Ye get knocked out; else wounded—bad or cushy;
Scuppered; or nowt except you're feelin' mushy."

  1. And there's also the phrase repeatedly used by the main hero in Kurt Vonnegut's famous novel Slaughterhouse 5: "so it goes". From Wikipedia:

The story continually employs the refrain "so it goes" when death, dying and mortality occur, as a narrative transition to another subject, as a memento mori, as comic relief and to explain the unexplained. It appears 106 times.


One's luck runs out:

(Fig. one's good luck stops. McGraw Hills idioms dictionary)

You can put it this way: Just when it was finally my turn, my luck ran out.


The closest I can think of in this case would be "The early bird gets the worm" which implies that if you let someone else beat you to an oppurtunity they will get it and you won't.

  • 1
    "The early bird gets the worm" ... and don't forget my favorite corollary: "The late mouse gets the cheese". :)
    – RobertF
    Commented Jul 10, 2015 at 16:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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