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Something that has no or a very low chance of succeeding or turning out well. The general gave orders to surrender as soon as he saw the battle was a lost cause. Trying to keep a clean house with three young children is a lost cause.
a futile attempt; a hopeless matter. Our campaign to have the new party on the ballot was a lost cause. Todd gave it up as a lost cause.
A hopeless undertaking, as in Trying to get him to quit smoking is a lost cause. In the 1860s this expression was widely used to describe the Confederacy. [Mid-1800s] Also see losing battle.
a lost cause
COMMON If something or someone is a lost cause, they are certain to fail and it is impossible to help them or make them succeed. It would have been all too easy to write this dog off as a lost cause, his trauma was so severe. He tried shouting for help, but he knew it was a lost cause.
a lost ˈcausean ambition, project or aim which seems certain to end in failure: For many years he supported the development of the electric car, but he now thinks it’s a lost cause. ♢ Trying to help him to improve his pronunciation is a lost cause.
n. a hopeless or worthless thing or person. The whole play began to wash out during the second act. It was a lost cause by the third.
lost cause, a
An undertaking doomed to fail. Two early uses of this term date from the 1860s. An item in the New York Herald of July 2, 1868, referred to the cause of the South in the American Civil War as “a lost cause.” The quotation marks appeared in the article, indicating that the writer may have been quoting a familiar phrase or perhaps Matthew Arnold’s description of Oxford University as “the home of lost causes” (in Essays in Criticism, 1865).
See also: lost