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- The anatomy of the first major success is like the young human body, a miracle only the owner can fully savor —John Fowles
- As he rose like a rocket, he fell like a stick —Thomas Paine
- A certain prosperity coats these people like scent or the layer of buttery light in a painting by Rubens —Jean Thompson
- A conqueror, like a cannon ball, must go on; if he rebounds, his career is over —The Duke of Wellington
- (The midlist author is) dogged by his past sales record, like a utility infielder with a .228 lifetime batting average —Phillip Lopate, New York Times Book Review, May 24, 1987
- Failed … like an old hanging bridge —Marge Piercy
- Fail like a five-year plan —Derek Lambert
- Failure grabs a man like an old and shabby suit —Derek Lambert
- (A great beauty) flourishing like a rose —Isak Dinesen
- Flourishing like a weed in a hot house —Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
- Flourishing like trees —Hilma Wolitzer
- Had risen to his great height like a man lifted to the ceiling by a sort of slow explosion —G. K. Chesterton
- High office is like a pyramid; only two kinds of animals reach the summit, reptiles and eagles —Jean Le Rond d’Alembert
- His life, day after day, was failing like an unreplenished stream —Percy Bysshe Shelley
- Moving up hand over hand … like a champion —Tom Wolfe
- Pursued success as a knight the Holy Grail —Anon
See Also: PERSISTENCE
- Sailed through the world like a white yacht jubilant with flags —John Gardner
- Selling like lemonade at a track meet —T. Coraghessan Boyle
- Sell like hotcakes —Anon
Different industries have coined many phrases for things which sell well. This American simile which came into use in the middle of the nineteenth century is still the most widely used. For a twist in meaning there’s “Selling like cold hot cakes” from The Last Good Kiss by James Crumley.
- Sold [books by nineteenth century author Karl May] like pancakes topped by wild blueberries and heavy cream —Vincent Canby, New York Times, June 25, 1986
- Sold like picks and pans in a gold rush —Robert Guenther, Wall Street Journal, August 6, 1986
- Success is as ice cold and lonely as the North Pole —Vicki Baum
See Also: ALONENESS
- Success is feminine and like a woman, if you cringe before her, she will override you —William Faulkner
Faulkner expanded on this simile still further: “So the way to treat her is to show her the back of your hand. Then maybe she will do the crawling.”
- Success on some men looks like a borrowed coat; it sits on you as though it had been made to order —Edith Wharton
- Triumphs like a trumpet —Wallace Stevens
- Wanted his success acknowledged … like the high school loser who dreams of driving to the class reunion in a custom-made sports car —Jean Thompson
- Winning an Oscar … it’s like getting thirty thousand red roses at one time —Louise Fletcher, from Rex Reed interview
- Wore his success like his health —George Garrett
back to the drawing board An acknowledgment that an enterprise has failed and that one must begin again from scratch, at the initial planning stages. The drawing board in question is the type used by draftsmen, architects, engineers, etc., for blueprints and such schematic designs. A similar phrase is back to square one, by analogy to a games board. Its meaning is the same—“We’ve got to start all over, from the very beginning.”
bite the dust See DEATH.
[one’s] cake is dough One’s project or undertaking has failed, one’s expectations or hopes have come to naught; one never has any luck. A cake which comes out of the oven as dough is clearly a total failure. Shakespeare used this now obsolete proverbial expression in The Taming of the Shrew (V, i):
My cake is dough; but I’ll in among the rest,
Out of hope of all but my share of the feast.
damp squib An enterprise that was to have been a great success, but fizzled out; a lead balloon; a dud. In this British colloquialism, squib is another name for a firecracker. If it is damp, it will not explode as expected. It may fizzle or, in some cases, turn out to be a dud.
flash in the pan An instant but short-lived success; a brief, intense effort that yields no significant results; a failure after an impressive beginning. This expression refers to the occasional misfiring of the old flintlock rifles which caused a flash, or sudden burst of flame, as the gunpowder in the pan burned instead of exploding and discharging a bullet. The expression appears in an 1802 military dictionary edited by Charles James:
Flash in the pan, an explosion of gunpowder without any communication beyond the touch-hole.
go belly up See DEATH.
goose egg A term used figuratively for lack of success in any endeavor; an instance of not scoring or of missing a point, so-called from the slang term for the numeral “0.” As far back as the 14th century, things were compared to goose eggs because of a similarity in shape and size. By the mid-1800s, the term was used in scoring at athletic contests.
At this stage of the game our opponents had fourteen runs—we had five large “goose eggs” as our share. (Wilkes’ Spirit of Times, July 14, 1866)
Goose egg can also be used as a verb.
I now had twenty-two consecutive World Series innings in which I goose-egged the National League. (Saturday Evening Post, February 28, 1948)
go up in smoke To come to naught, to be wasted or futile; to be unsuccessful, to fail or flop; also to end up in smoke and other variants.
One might let him scheme and talk, hoping it might all end in smoke. (Jane Welsh Carlyle, New Letters and Memorials, 1853)
Use of this self-evident expression dates from the 17th century.
lay an egg To flop or bomb, especially when performing before an audience; to fail miserably. During World War I, lay an egg was Air Force terminology for ‘drop a bomb,’ egg probably being associated with bomb because of its similar shape. In addition, egg or goose egg is common slang for ‘zero, cipher,’ also because of their similar shapes. Thus, to lay an egg is ‘to bomb’ (figuratively), or to produce a large zero, i.e., nothing in terms of a favorable response from an audience, supervisor, or other persons evaluating a performance.
You would just as well come wearing a shell if you ever took a job [singing] in a spot like this, that is how big an egg you would lay. (John O’Hara, Pal Joey, 1939)
lead balloon A failure, fiasco, or flop; an attempt to entertain or communicate that fails to elicit a desirable response. This phrase is relatively new, having appeared in print no earlier that the mid-1900s. Lead balloon was originally heard in the verb phrase to go over like a lead balloon, an obvious hyperbolic expression for failing miserably. Today the phrase is used alone substantively or adjectivally. Thus, a joke, plan, etc., can be called a “lead balloon.”
What the Dickens? was a lead balloon literary quiz wherein the experts showed only how little they knew. (Sunday Times, April 19, 1970)
lemon An object of inferior quality; a dud; something that fails to meet expectations. This expression alludes to the lemons painted on the reels of slot machines or “one-armed bandits.” Whenever a lemon appears on one of the reels, regardless of what appears on the other reels, the gambler automatically loses his money. Lemon was in popular use by 1905, less than ten years after slot machines were invented. The expression remains almost ubiquitous, particularly in its most common current application, i.e., in reference to automobiles which experience almost constant mechanical difficulties.
Mechanics are less than delighted to see lines of lemons converging on their service departments. (Saturday Review, June 17, 1972)
See also one-armed bandit, NICKNAMES.
lose one’s shirt To be financially devastated. This common expression implies that a shirt is the last of one’s possessions to be lost in a financial upheaval.
a miss is as good as a mile A proverb implying that it does not matter how close one comes to hitting or attaining a goal, a near miss is still a miss, a near success is still a failure, etc. This expression is probably a corruption of an earlier, more explicit adage, “An inch in a miss is as good as an ell.” (An ell is a unit of measurement; in England, 45 inches.) It has also been suggested that the original expression was “Amis is as good as Amile,” alluding to two of Charlemagne’s soldiers who were both heroes, both martyrs, and both saints—thus, to many people, they were virtually indistinguishable.
He was very near being a poet—but a miss is as good as a mile, and he always fell short of the mark. (Sir Walter Scott, Journal, 1825)
miss the boat To miss out on something by arriving too late, to lose an opportunity or chance; to fail to understand; also to miss the bus. These phrases bring to mind the image of someone arriving at the dock or bus stop just in time to see the boat or bus leaving without him. Although both expressions date from approximately the early part of this century, to miss the boat is by far the more common.
Some firms were missing the boat because their managements were not prepared to be adventurous. (The Times, March, 1973)
my Venus turns out a whelp See REVERSAL.
take a bath To be ruined financially, to lose everything, to go to the cleaners; usually used in reference to a specific financial venture. This figurative American slang use of to take a bath, meaning ‘to be stripped of all one’s possessions,’ plays on one’s physical nakedness when bathing.
washed out To have met with failure or financial ruin; disqualified from social, athletic, or scholastic pursuits. One theory suggests that this phrase originated as an allusion to the former military custom of whitewashing a target after shooting practice, but the connection is difficult to discern. In modern usage, this expression is often applied in an athletic context to one who, because of injury or inferior ability, can no longer compete. In addition, the expression often implies a total depletion of funds.
I would sit in with … hustlers who really knew how to gamble. I always got washed out. (Louis Armstrong, Satchmo, My Life in New Orleans, 1954)
wither on the vine To fail to mature, develop, or reach fruition; to die aborning; to go unused, to be wasted. The expression describes lost opportunity, unrealized ambitions or talents, unfulfilled plans, etc. It often implies negligence or oversight; if such had been properly tended and nourished, they would have blossomed. An obvious antecedent of the expression appeared in the 17th century:
Like a neglected rose
It withers on the stalk with
(John Milton, Comus, 1634)
|Noun||1.||failure - an act that fails; "his failure to pass the test"|
flunk, failing - failure to reach a minimum required performance; "his failing the course led to his disqualification"; "he got two flunks on his report"
naught - complete failure; "all my efforts led to naught"
loss - the act of losing someone or something; "everyone expected him to win so his loss was a shock"
lapsing, relapse, relapsing, backsliding, reverting, lapse, reversion - a failure to maintain a higher state
misplay, error - (baseball) a failure of a defensive player to make an out when normal play would have sufficed
out - (baseball) a failure by a batter or runner to reach a base safely in baseball; "you only get 3 outs per inning"
|2.||failure - an event that does not accomplish its intended purpose; "the surprise party was a complete failure"|
flame-out - a complete or conspicuous failure; "the spectacular flame-out of the company's stock cost many people their life savings"
malfunction - a failure to function normally
defeat, licking - an unsuccessful ending to a struggle or contest; "it was a narrow defeat"; "the army's only defeat"; "they suffered a convincing licking"
success - an event that accomplishes its intended purpose; "let's call heads a success and tails a failure"; "the election was a remarkable success for the Whigs"
|3.||failure - lack of success; "he felt that his entire life had been a failure"; "that year there was a crop failure"|
circumstances, luck, destiny, fate, fortune, lot, portion - your overall circumstances or condition in life (including everything that happens to you); "whatever my fortune may be"; "deserved a better fate"; "has a happy lot"; "the luck of the Irish"; "a victim of circumstances"; "success that was her portion"
bankruptcy - a state of complete lack of some abstract property; "spiritual bankruptcy"; "moral bankruptcy"; "intellectual bankruptcy"
bank failure - the inability of a bank to meet its credit obligations
crop failure - the failure of crops to produce a marketable surplus
dead duck - something doomed to failure; "he finally admitted that the legislation was a dead duck"; "the idea of another TV channel is now a dead duck"; "as theories go, that's a dead duck"
success - a state of prosperity or fame; "he is enjoying great success"; "he does not consider wealth synonymous with success"
|4.||failure - a person with a record of failing; someone who loses consistently|
flash in the pan - someone who enjoys transient success but then fails
underdog - one at a disadvantage and expected to lose
|5.||failure - an unexpected omission; "he resented my failure to return his call"; "the mechanic's failure to check the brakes"|
breach - a failure to perform some promised act or obligation
copout - a failure to face some difficulty squarely
|6.||failure - inability to discharge all your debts as they come due; "the company had to declare bankruptcy"; "fraudulent loans led to the failure of many banks"|
insolvency - the lack of financial resources
|7.||failure - loss of ability to function normally; "kidney failure"|
disorder, upset - a physical condition in which there is a disturbance of normal functioning; "the doctor prescribed some medicine for the disorder"; "everyone gets stomach upsets from time to time"
coronary failure, heart failure - inability of the heart to pump enough blood to sustain normal bodily functions
lack of success success, triumph, effectiveness, adequacy
negligence care, observance
"A failure is a stranger in his own house" [Eric Hoffer The Passionate State of Mind]
"There is not a fiercer hell than the failure in a great object" [John Keats Endymion]
"There is no failure except in no longer trying" [Elbert Hubbard The Note Book]
to end in failure → acabar mal, malograrse (LAm)
it was a complete failure → fue un fracaso total
the crop was a total failure → la cosecha se perdió por completo
see also power C
feelings of failure → un sentiment d'échec
to end in failure → se solder par un échec
It was a complete failure → Ce fut un échec total.
a mechanical failure → une défaillance mécanique
a power failure → une panne de courant
engine failure → panne f de moteur
heart failure (= chronic condition) → insuffisance f cardiaque (= cardiac arrest) → arrêt m du cœur
to suffer heart failure → être victime d'un arrêt cardiaque
his failure to turn up → le fait de n'être pas venu, le fait qu'il ne soit pas venu
their disgraceful failure to support British citizens → leur manque de soutien déplorable aux citoyens britanniques
the family's repeated failure to keep their hospital appointments → la succession de rendez-vous d'hôpital manqués de cette famille, le fait que cette famille ait négligé de manière systématique de se présenter à ses rendez-vous à l'hôpital
failure[ˈfeɪljəʳ] n (gen) → fallimento; (in exam) → bocciatura; (of crops) → perdita; (breakdown) → guasto, avaria; (person) → fallito/a; (omission) his failure to come/answer → il fatto che non sia venuto/abbia risposto
to end in failure → fallire
it was a complete failure → è stato un vero fiasco
failure rate (gen) → numero di insuccessi (Scol) → numero di respinti