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There is an idiom that seems to be distinctly British: "---- this for a game of soldiers" where the dashes are replaced with various swear words. For example: "Sod this for a game of soldiers." It usually seems to involve profanity but there are some cleaned-up variations such as "Stuff this for a game of soldiers."

The basic meaning is clear: "---- this" expresses disapproval of a situation. But I'm curious about the modifying phrase.

My guess, and it is only a guess, is that the phrase is expressing a preferred alternative. "---- this, I would prefer to play a game of soldiers." My reason for this is that there is an alternative formulation, "---- this for a lark" where "a lark" means "a fun and carefree activity".

I have done Google searches and haven't found any authoritative source. Most sources seem to agree that there is a meaning of "this activity is not worth the trouble" or possibly "this activity is no longer worth the trouble".

I have found several sources suggesting that "game of soldiers" is somehow referring to the unpleasantness of war, which would suggest the meaning "---- this, the current situation has become an unpleasant one." But this seems highly unlikely to me as the related phrase cannot possibly be construed that way: a "lark" is never an unpleasant situation.

What does it mean? And where did it originate, did this come from the military, or what?

EDIT: Since posting this, I have come to think that maybe the overall sense of the phrase is "this activity is not worth my time," which may be a British understatement for some usages. (I saw this phrase in a web comic where explosions started happening and a character ran for his life shouting "Sod this for a game of soldiers!") "a game of soldiers" and "a lark" might both simply be metaphors for an activity with no real benefit. Thus, if someone waits for almost an hour for a late friend and then says "---- this for a game of soldiers" it could mean "to continue waiting would be as unprofitable a use of my time as playing soldiers" or more simply "--- this, it's not a good use of my time."

  • Never, to my recollection, having heard the phrase before, and lacking any context, I would have some suspicion that "game of soldiers" might refer to boys playing with toy soldiers. I don't think this is so popular these days (what with video games, etc), but it used to be that boys between the ages of roughly 5 and 15 could occupy themselves for hours, either alone or in small groups, playing with soldiers. It was, of course, a rather meaningless activity, which would seem to fit the way the idiom is applied. – Hot Licks Jun 22 '16 at 23:03
  • (Note that the "soldiers" here would be small tin soldiers, originally cast in lead or zinc, and more recently in plastic, standing maybe 2 inches (5 cm) tall.) – Hot Licks Jun 22 '16 at 23:24
  • I said several years ago that this expression was one of my personal favourites. But if I'm honest, I can't swear that I was familiar with it before the mid-80s when Jan Needle published a book of that name. Doubtless the expression must have been around before then, but it may well have gained much more traction since. – FumbleFingers Jun 23 '16 at 0:13
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Sod this for a game of soldiers/bugger this for a game of soldiers:

  • oath uttered when faced with a pointless or exasperating task popular expression dating back into the mid-1900s and possibly before this, of uncertain origin although it has been suggested to me (ack R Brookman) that the 'game of soldiers' referred to a darts game played (a variation or perhaps the game itself) and so named in Yorkshire, and conceivably beyond. There certainly seem to be long-standing references to 'soldiers' in darts games, for example when numbers on the board are allocated to players who then 'kill' each other's soldiers by landing darts in the relevant numbers. There is also a fundamental association between the game of darts and soldiers - real or perceived - since many believe that the game itself derived from medieval games played by soldiers using spears or arrows (some suggest with barrel-ends as targets), either to ease boredom, or to practise skills or both.

  • The allusion of the expression is to a difficult and painstaking or frustrating pastime, for which a game (perhaps darts, or some other reference now forgotten and lost) serves as the metaphor. See also ST FAGOS in the acronyms section. In this context (ack P Kone and S Leadbeater for raising this particular point) sod, and bugger for that matter, are expletives referring to the act of anal intercourse, which through history has been regarded by righteous sorts a most unspeakable and ungodly sin, hence the unending popularity of these words as oaths.

(Businessballs.com)

Blow this for a lark:

  • "Blow" in the sense of "damn" or "curse" was fairly common in the UK up until about 50 years ago - I remember my mother when surprised or irritated using "oh blow" undoubtedly as a euphemism for some swearword exclamation. I imagine it originally comes from a wish for the offending issue to be blown away - possibly to Hell - though I have no evidence of such. "Blow this for a lark (or laugh)" would still be understood here, though we'd be more likely these days to use "screw" rather than "blow". We might even say "screw this for a game of soldiers".

  • "Blow" in a pejoritive sense has of course recently got a new lease of life, courtesy of US English from what I understand, as in "let's blow this popsicle stand" or even the more vulgar "that blows".

  • As a side note, and to jump eagerly onto one of my favourite hobbyhorses, Terry Pratchett is of course one of the finest writers writing today.

    • Well...in the U.S. "blow" does mean leave. "Let's blow this firetrap." But it also means oral copulation. As in: "This blows," another way of saying "This sucks."'

(The Phrase Finder)

  • Yeah, I found those links with my Google searches. I am unconvinced by the "darts" theory as "a lark" is unlikely to be difficult or painstaking. I continue to think that either the "for a..." phrase is a preferred alternative, or represents a waste of time, and I now favour the latter theory. I am amused by the "Saint Fagos" bit. "'For the love of St Fagos..." That's a nicely roundabout way to invoke this phrase! – steveha Jun 23 '16 at 2:07
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I always understood this to mean "this is no fun and a waste of time" and that the "game of soldiers" or "lark" we thought it would be - has turned into something far less fun. I.e. "this is a rubbish game of soldiers" "this is no fun if it's supposed to be a lark" The "Sod this/blow this/ ___ this" is meaning "who the hell thought this would be a good game of soldiers.

  • Welcome to EL&U! We strive to create objective and well-referenced answers. Could you flesh out yours to add in some links, proving your answer? Take the Tour and see How to Answer for more. – BladorthinTheGrey Oct 1 '16 at 10:48
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"XXX this ...for a lark/game of soldiers/good time.

Surely the essential sense of this construction (which I use and hear often) is that the speaker is saying that the activity they are engaged with is turning out to be a lot less rewarding/pleasing than they were expecting/hoping.

The activity used for comparison may be playfully facetious (e.g. a game of soldiers), or literally describing what it was that they had hoped to be doing (e.g. a lark; a good time ...).

  • Are you saying definitively that the "for a game of soldiers" part is meant to represent what the speaker would rather be doing? So the meaning of the phrase is "---- this, I'd rather be playing a game of soldiers"? – steveha Jun 28 '16 at 22:22
  • @steveha - No. I reckon in many cases 'a game of soldiers' is used unthinkingly (as per my first para). Playing at soldiers (as opposed to being one really) can be fun but there are usually many ways the game can stop being fun! Perhaps using this phrase to criticise an activity helps communicate that, like soldier games, the activity was of doubtful fun potential in the first place...? (i.e. whose ridiculous idea was it that this idea would be fun?) – Dan Jun 29 '16 at 12:44
  • The whole point of this question is to find out the intended meaning of the phrase "for a game of solders" or "for a lark". Your comment now gives me a third theory. For review, the three theories are: 0) the phrase is something the speaker would rather be doing; 1) the phrase is something that is a waste of time, and the speaker is thus metaphorically saying the current situation is a waste of time; or now 2) the speaker is metaphorically saying the current situation was unlikely ever to be fun in the first place. – steveha Jun 30 '16 at 18:00
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Historically soldiers were notorious for becoming engaged in silly and most times (e.g. the game of the "bisquit") non-sense games to kill the time, practice that over time gave them a poorly credible connotation and stereotype. Hence this old fashioned colloquialism (the original version was Sod this for a game of soldiers) compares the foolishness of a certain action/thing with that of "a game of soldiers"..from The Urban Dictionary

  • The urban dictionary isn't really the height of reliability, can you proffer any other sources? – Will Crawford Jan 10 '18 at 12:57
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Here is an answer on Quora, written by Leah Earl.

The “for” is in the sense of being or constituting — so the phrase as a whole means “this activity is a very poor approximation to a game of soldiers” (or “this activity is a very poor approximation to a lark”).

There seem to be differing opinions on what precisely is meant by “a game of soldiers”. From context it’s clearly meant to be something lighthearted and enjoyable[...]

Read the rest of the answer on Quora: https://www.quora.com/In-the-phrase-XXX-this-for-a-game-of-soldiers-what-is-the-meaning-of-the-last-part-of-the-phrase-starting-with-for#

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It can mean different but related things depending on the context.

If something is happening that reaches a point where you need to act "Sod this for a game of soldiers" means action is more important than a game of soldiers (whatever the origin of the phrase is).

If something is happening that you don't want to be part of it can mean that a game of soldiers (something very unimportant) is preferable to what is happening, often followed by your physical or participatory departure.

  • Can you quote some references to substantiate this answer? As it stands, we have no idea whether you've researched this thoroughly or are merely guessing. – Toby Speight Oct 25 '18 at 8:00

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