"choose and lose"

Contextually, I have seen it used to chastise someone who has chosen a life of drugs and drifting instead of providing for his children.

However, a word-by-word analysis implies that no matter the choice, the person will lose.

Reconciling the usage with the analysis, one might interpret it as "based on your choices, you lose."

Questions (if any are off-topic, please let me know and I'll update the question):

  • Is my reconciliation correct, is the idiom correct, and/or is the word-by-word analysis correct (for possible usage)?
  • Is this an informal idiom, or it is useful in formal communication?
  • What is the origin of the phrase?
  • I have never come across it. Without actual context, it is hard to give any opinion except to say that it sounds defeatist.
    – Mick
    Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 13:22
  • 1
    Like Mick, I have never heard the phrase either, but it does whiff of the moralizing PSA marketers. In that vein, I would be tempted to analyze it as an omission (or deletion), as in "choose [drugs] and lose" or, even more expanded, "choose [to do drugs] and lose". Ignoring pragmatics and attempting to analyze the phrase algebraically, yes, it does denote any choice implies a loss, but that's exactly why we can't and don't ignore pragmatics. Context is everything. Context is king. Without context, we're all just babbling into he void.
    – Dan Bron
    Commented Oct 1, 2016 at 13:46

2 Answers 2


Hard to say, but my guess would be that it is a satirical variation on "Choose or Lose", the slogan used by MTV from 1992 to 2011 to encourage young adults to vote.

In its original form, it expressed the idea that failing to vote was a worse decision than supporting any particular candidate -- an noble idea whose underlying vacuity is vividly demonstrated by this year's campaign.

Its altered form suggests something akin to Emma Goldman's complaint, "If voting changed anything, they'd make it illegal."


“Choose and lose” refers to a multiple choice test. We used that back in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s when I was in school. Another term with the same meaning is “multiple guess”.

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    – livresque
    Commented Feb 25, 2021 at 23:56

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