bring to nought: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘bring to nought’ mean?

The idiom "bring to nought" means to render something useless or ineffective, causing it to have no value or purpose.

Idiom Explorer

Unexpected Nullification

The idiom "bring to nought" is an interesting and slightly archaic expression that is not commonly used in modern everyday conversations. Its meaning is straightforward: it means to render something or someone ineffective or useless, to nullify or negate their efforts or achievements. It implies the complete annihilation or destruction of a certain purpose, goal, or outcome, reducing it to nothing, hence the term "nought."

When researching the idiom "bring to nought," it becomes evident that its origins and usage can be traced back to biblical language and literature. The phrase is found in the King James Version of the Bible, specifically in the book of Isaiah. In Isaiah 41:11-12, the verse states: "Behold, all they that were incensed against thee shall be ashamed and confounded: they shall be as nothing; and they that strive with thee shall perish. Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find them, even them that contended with thee: they that war against thee shall be as nothing, and as a thing of nought."

Given its biblical origins, it is safe to assume that the idiom "bring to nought" was primarily utilized within religious or spiritual contexts in its early usage. However, over time, it has become somewhat of an archaic expression and is rarely used in contemporary language or writing.

One could argue that the lesser usage of "bring to nought" is also due to the availability of more commonly used synonyms that effectively convey a similar meaning. Phrases such as "render useless," "waste efforts," "nullify," or "make in vain" are perhaps more prevalent in modern language. These synonyms are likely preferred due to their brevity and clarity, compared to the slightly longer and less familiar expression "bring to nought."

The idiom "come to nought" is closely related to "bring to nought" and shares a similar meaning. "Come to nought" implies that something or someone has ended up being ineffective or useless, resulting in a lack of achievement or success. It conveys a sense of disappointment or failure, as the initial expectations or aspirations have not been fulfilled.

Similarly, the idiom "come to nothing" also signifies the lack of achievement or success and implies that something has failed or not materialized as expected. It suggests that hopes, plans, or efforts have been in vain, resulting in a fruitless outcome.

An additional related idiom is "to no avail," which means that something has been done or attempted, but it has not had the desired effect or outcome. It indicates that an effort or action has been undertaken, but it has been ineffective or useless in achieving the intended purpose or goal.

Despite its decreasing popularity, the idiom "bring to nought" still holds a certain charm and poetic quality. It evokes a sense of finality and complete dissolution, leaving no room for doubt or ambiguity. The image it conjures is of a powerful force or action that obliterates all traces of a once significant entity, leading to a complete sense of nothingness. It provokes a certain fascination with the concept of annihilation and draws attention to the fragility of human endeavors and ambitions.

Although the idiom "bring to nought" may not find many practical applications in contemporary language, its historical and linguistic significance should not be overlooked. It serves as a reminder of the rich tapestry of idiomatic expressions that have shaped our language and culture over the centuries. While the idiom may fade into obscurity, its echoes linger, tantalizing us with the possibilities of language and the eternally evolving landscape of human communication.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom bring to nought can be used in a sentence:

  1. He relied on his brilliant tactics to bring his opponent's plans to nought.
  2. Despite their best efforts, the team's performance brought their chance of victory to nought.
  3. The unexpected setback brought all their hard work and preparation to nought.

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