What does the idiom "lost cause" mean?

The expression lost cause is one of the idioms that often finds a place in our literature and enriches our language. However, its meaning is not fully understood, so it is sometimes used in the wrong situations. Please review the explanation carefully for the correct use of the lost cause idiom.

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

The Global Spread of English Idioms

As English has become a global language, its idioms have spread far beyond the borders of the UK and USA. For instance, the idiom "beat around the bush" has equivalents in many other languages, such as "tourner autour du pot" in French and "dar vueltas al asunto" in Spanish. Meanwhile, other idioms have been adapted for local contexts, such as the Russian idiom "?? ???? ???????" (ne svoya rubashka), which translates to "not one's own shirt," meaning to be in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar situation.


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