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Someone or 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. Everyone considered Stacey a lost cause during high school, but she has gone on to become one of the most successful women in the world.
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.
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.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. © 2002 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.
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.
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
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.
Collins COBUILD Idioms Dictionary, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2012
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.
Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017
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.
McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions Copyright © 2006 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved.
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
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer