Last weekend, my 6-year-old nephew was shooting at stuff in his backyard with his 10-year-old brother's new (fake/plastic/suction-cup) bow-and-arrow set. He kept missing the beer can set up for his shooting purposes, and during what seemed like hours (15 minutes) of watching politely, I kept offering words of encouragement, including finally:
"Close, but no cigar!"
He stopped aiming and looked at me: "Why do people always SAY that? What does that MEAN?"
Meow, kid! But I love that he's actually paying attention to language! I knew what it meant idiomatically, but I had no clue what it originally meant. Until tonight, courtesy of the Internet:
"According to Bartleby, the phrase likely originated at carnivals when cigars were given away as prizes... The Phrase Finder offers a slightly different story. The site states that the saying came from the custom of early slot machines awarding cigars to winners. A third theory comes from Take Our Word for It, which says nobody knows exactly how the phrase came about, but that it likely came to prominence at carnivals, specifically the game where players use a sledgehammer to ring a bell."
Thanks, Internet! I can't wait to report back to the kid.