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forlorn hope

1. An undertaking that seems very unlikely to succeed. This plan you have is a forlorn hope and will never work out the way you want.
2. A group of soldiers sent on an extremely dangerous mission. The phrase comes from the Dutch verloren hoop, meaning "lost troop." Have you heard anything from the forlorn hope yet? Did they reach their target?
See also: forlorn, hope
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

a forlorn hope

a faint remaining hope or chance; a desperate attempt.
This expression developed in the mid 16th century from the Dutch expression verloren hoop ‘lost troop’. The phrase originally denoted a band of soldiers picked to begin an attack, many of whom would not survive; the equivalent French phrase is enfants perdus ‘lost children’. The current sense, which dates from the mid 17th century, arose from a misunderstanding of the etymology.
See also: forlorn, hope
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

forlorn hope

An undertaking with little chance of success; a lost cause. This expression, while seemingly quite straightforward in English, actually came from a Dutch term of the late sixteenth century, verloren hoop, which meant “a lost troop of soldiers,” that is, an expendable squad. The British mistook hoop for hope and changed the meaning to a desperate undertaking, which has persisted since the seventeenth century.
See also: forlorn, hope
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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References in periodicals archive ?
(149) Sartre wrote, "[W]hat we call 'Existentialism humanism' [is a] [h]umanism, because we remind man that there is no lawmaker other than himself, and that in his forlornness he will decide by himself...." (150) Thus, we have the original Catholic meaning of Renaissance humanism very consciously and willfully kidnapped, held captive and harmed--but not put to death--by Marxist humanism, pragmatic humanism, and existential humanism.
The woman, who is called Tok Wook, fondly confessed her insecurity and said she was looking for a new hubby to fill her 'forlornness and nothing more than that'.
"My intention to remarry is to fill my forlornness and nothing more than that," she said, adding that she felt lonely without her husband by her side to celebrate the coming Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr next week.
DESPAIR, anguish, dejection, desperation, despondency, disheartenment, forlornness, gloom, melancholy, misery, pain and sorrow.
Connie's plain sense of forlornness and isolation at this stage of the film are symptomatic of her subconscious suppression of latent sexual desires.
He has felt before their aching forlornness for himself.' (28) One of these orphans is Sandra, who is known as 'Horsegirl' for her preferred impersonation of horses.
In Isabella, England and Europe stand for reality; but snow he sees for the first time in London, his element, as he decides as a boy, represents only beauty, immense but signifying nothing else, unless the forlornness of the city (Naipaul 7).
On I go, taking in the soothing greens surrounding Tibana, the forlornness of Nuevo Colon, and Turmeque's picture-book plaza.
Grant thinks images: a rope dangling from a mizzen sail; the frayed edge of fabric, something rough like jute; the forlornness of something or other, and he sighs theatrically, at the unfinished that passes itself off as freedom or enticement.
One reviewer wrote that the purpose of The Conservative Mind was merely to soothe the "pent-up injury, forlornness and frustration" for those conservatives left behind by contemporary life.
We learned at the same drill that we would be separated that same day, and the forlornness was piercing.
Like its often existentially related term, l'angoise, the French word navre connotes a deep and abiding forlornness that in its solipsistic intensity connects through time with the deities and humans who have experienced such deep sadness.
conscious of his utter forlornness, of his being not so much a part
How unspeakable, then, it struck her, that worldly arrangements should contribute to the forlornness of one's natural state!
How inner human emotions, and particularly how love and death evince the consequentiality of a murder-war, is clearly a heart-word in the literature of disenchantment that Woolf registers in her novel, in which feelings of forlornness, desperation, deprivation are prevalent, and in which, to employ a Dickens phrase, we see how "a crestfallen, disenchanted man" emerges to characterize the modern age in transition.