What does the idiom "lost cause" mean?

You are wondering about the meaning of the phrase lost cause, maybe you heard it in a TV show, movie or theater play. Although this idiom is not used very often, it enriches your capacity of expression and strengthens communication. In which case is the expression lost cause used and what is its meaning?

Meaning of "lost cause"


The phrase “lost cause” is an idiom often used to describe an attempt or effort that has been deemed impossible to succeed or win. It implies that one has attempted something, but given up because it was too difficult or because the goal was too far out of reach.


The phrase “lost cause” is believed to have originated during the American Civil War. It was used to describe an endeavor or effort that was deemed hopeless or that had failed, often in the context of a military conflict. The phrase would later be used to describe any effort that seemed futile or impossible to win.


The phrase “lost cause” is typically used to describe a situation or an endeavor in which success is impossible or unlikely. It is often used in a sarcastic or ironic way, to describe an effort that is doomed to fail. It can also be used to express sympathy or understanding, as when one wants to acknowledge that an effort has failed, despite good intentions.

Example Sentences

  • After months of trying, it became clear that the project was a lost cause and would never come to fruition.
  • His ideas for success have proven to be a lost cause and have not yielded the desired results.
  • Don't worry, we all have lost causes in our lives.

The meanings of the words in the "lost cause" idiom

Beyond the Literal: Figurative Language in Idioms

Idioms often use figurative language to convey a message that is not meant to be taken literally. For instance, the idiom "bite the bullet" means to endure a painful or difficult situation without complaint, while "hold your horses" means to be patient and wait. Other idioms, like "kick the bucket" or "pop your clogs," use euphemisms to talk about death.


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