It’s not over until the fat lady sings

Example in use: “Great, look our team is leading 2-nil! We are definitely going to win the championship!” “Wait, there’s still five minutes to play. It’s not over until the fat lady sings!”

Meaning: The result of a situation is not sure and final until the end has really happened. You should not think you know the result of something until it has ended.

Possible German equivalent: Es ist noch nicht aller Tage Abend.

Possible origin: This is similar in meaning to the idiom, “Don’t count your chickens until they’re hatched” (#32) and can include the words until, till or ‘til which all have the same meaning.

There is much discussion about the true origin of this expression with sporting references, World War II stories and operas featuring the ultimate “fat” ladies.

But it is opera which really does appear to be the origin of the idiom with a general understanding that it really refers to the Valkyrie Brünnhilde in Wager’s “The Ring”. Brünnhilde is usually represented as a large lady whose final aria, lasting almost 20 minutes actually takes you to the end of the opera. With the last part of the ring featuring the end of the world of the Norse gods, it really has a meaning of everything being over when the fat lady sings – the end of everything.

However, the expression itself has no other link to the opera and has since been more connected with more modern sporting events. It was particularly popularised in the 1970’s by an American sports journalist who is quoted as using it in response to a discussion about the close end to a basketball game,

"Hey, Ralph," said Bill Morgan, "this... is going to be a tight one after all." "Right", said Ralph, "the opera ain’t over until the fat lady sings."

 Lady / ˈleɪ.di



Welcome again to our weekly series that hopes to go behind the scenes of some rather typical English expressions.