I can't remember a phrasal verb or an idiom that describes something that came too late, i.e. i bought this book to solve this mathematical problem, however as it only came a week later it was xxxxxx.

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    looked here idioms.thefreedictionary.com/late ?
    – Unreason
    Aug 9, 2011 at 13:47
  • There are lots of words and phrases (some straightforward, some idiomatic) to describe things which arrived anywhere from "annoyingly overdue" to "so late as to be useless or counterproductive". Voting to close as "not constructive", since there cannot be a single answer unless someone guesses the particular one OP has in mind but can't recall. Aug 9, 2011 at 14:01
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    @Unreason: The only good thing that might come of this question is that OP might recognise that the "correct" answer is in fact wrong for the context he gives. It's the US equivalent of UK Too little, too late, which means exactly what it says. OP's usage implies only "too late", since there's no implication that the book didn't contain the information he wanted - just that it wasn't there when he wanted it. So all we've done here is encourage sloppy use of poorly-understood idiomatic usage. Aug 9, 2011 at 15:41
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    @FumbleFingers, I agree that the "double-shortage" of the expression should have been explicitly mentioned (it is explained in the links I provide). On the issue that this is the only good thing that can come out of it, I believe that you are improperly generalizing.
    – Unreason
    Aug 9, 2011 at 16:08
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    @Unreason: Doesn't alter that fact although your answer was accepted as "right" by OP, it's "wrong" for the actual question. If the question had been "What does this expression mean?" I'd have been happier - but I'd still probably vote to close because it would be trivial. As it is, I think OP confirming his own misconception is a bad way for EL&U to operate. Aug 9, 2011 at 16:53

2 Answers 2


As requested, a good starting point is a page that lists idioms containing the word late, see here.

One of them is “A day late and a dollar short”.

Personally, I like “That ship has sailed”, which you will not find in the link above, but is mentioned here.

As @FumbleFingers notes, the use of a phrase “A day late and a dollar short” would be wrong if the book actually contains a solution to the mentioned mathematical problem (it would be appropriate if it came late and it did not have anything in it to help solve the problem).


For some reason horse analogies seem popular for this type of thing. Doing something too late to be effective is often referred to as "shutting the door after the horse has bolted", while doing things in the wrong order is "putting the cart before the horse".

As FumbleFingers says, there are many other candidates; it's worth noting that the (very useful) link that Unreason posted only contains phrases that actually contain the word "late".

My preference for your situation would be "too little, too late" - but strictly speaking that, and "a day late and a dollar short", imply that the book was not only late but didn't provide you with the solution for your mathematical problem either.

  • +1 partly for flagging up the common horse analogies, and partly for recognising straight off that any expression implying "inadequate" as well as "too late for the purpose" probably doesn't fit OP's context. Aug 9, 2011 at 17:02

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