Always a bridesmaid, never a bride

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Grammarist

Always a bridesmaid, never a bride, is an idiom which describes someone who never quite fulfills his or her potential, a person who makes it to the finals but never wins the contest. The origin of always a bridesmaid, never a bride, may be  traced to a superstition that it is bad luck for a maiden to serve as a bridesmaid more than twice, and serving as a bridesmaid three times may bring such bad luck that the woman will never marry. This folk wisdom may have made sense in former times, when women living in small communities had a finite pool of marriageable men with whom to pair and the loss of an eligible bachelor meant one less opportunity to marry. This fear of never marrying was exploited by an American mouthwash company, Listerine, in an advertising campaign in the 1920s with the slogan: Often a bridesmaid, never a bride. The idiom evolved into always a bridesmaid, never a bride, sometimes shortened to always a bridesmaid, leaving the rest of the phrase, never a bride, implied. The term is usually hyphenated when used as an adjective.

Today, the fortunes of American women do not depend on their ability to marry, and the idiom always a bridesmaid, never a bride is most often used metaphorically, especially to describe politicians who do not win important offices and sports teams that lose big titles.

Examples

Given the involvement of director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, fresh from his Academy-Award triumphs for Birdman, and always-a-bridesmaid Oscar hopeful Leonardo DiCaprio, this Alberta-shot epic would be receiving plenty of attention no matter what. (The Calgary Herald)

Sure, you wanted to pat his head every time the always-a-bridesmaid Broncos backup quarterback regurgitated one of those peppy “I practice every day as if I’m starting!” quotes, but nothing replaces game experience. (The Gazette)

Sinden’s legacy (ie. always a bridesmaid, never a bride) is a subject for another time, but there is no discussion of his career as GM of the Bruins without noting his Nov. 1975 trade of Esposito and Carol Vadnais (whom Schmidt had acquired to buttress the blue line for the ’72 Cup run) to the New York Rangers for D Brad Park, C Jean Ratelle and D Joe Zanussi. (South Coast Today)