win the battle, but lose the war: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘win the battle, but lose the war’ mean?

The idiom "win the battle, but lose the war" means to achieve a small victory or success in a specific situation, but ultimately suffer a larger or more important defeat in the overall context or long-term outcome.

Idiom Explorer

Costly Triumphs

The idiom "win the battle, but lose the war" is most commonly used to describe a situation where someone achieves a short-term victory or success, but ultimately suffers a larger or more significant defeat or setback. It is often used in contexts related to conflict, competition, or strategy.

The origins of this idiom can be traced back to ancient military strategies and warfare. It draws upon the idea that winning individual battles in a war does not guarantee overall victory, as the ultimate goal is to win the war itself. The idiom is a metaphorical expression that extends beyond literal warfare and is now widely used in various domains.

This idiom can be applied to a wide range of situations and scenarios, encompassing both personal and professional contexts. It can describe instances where short-term gains or achievements do not align with long-term objectives, resulting in overall failure or loss.

The idiom implies that one should consider the larger picture and long-term consequences when making decisions or pursuing goals. It highlights the importance of strategic thinking and planning to achieve sustainable success.

Examples of using this idiom can be found in literature, politics, business, sports, and everyday conversations. It resonates with individuals who understand the nuances of achieving success and avoiding pitfalls or setbacks.

The outcome of the battle determined their long-term success.

In some cases, individuals may find themselves fighting a losing battle, where their efforts are futile and unlikely to lead to success. Despite their best efforts, they are unable to overcome the obstacles in their path. This relates to the idiom "fight a losing battle."

However, there are also instances where individuals are able to overcome challenges and "win the day." They are able to achieve victory in a particular situation or circumstance, even if it may not lead to ultimate success in the long run.

It is not uncommon for individuals to encounter situations where they are on the brink of defeat, but are able to "snatch victory from the jaws of defeat." They are able to turn the tide and achieve success when it seemed unlikely or impossible.

In order to avoid falling into the trap of only focusing on short-term victories, individuals must learn to "play to win." This means considering the long-term implications of their actions and decisions, rather than solely focusing on immediate gains. By taking a strategic approach, individuals can increase their chances of achieving lasting success.

It is important to note that even if an individual is able to "get the better of" their opponents or obstacles in a particular situation, it does not guarantee long-term success. They may win small battles along the way, but if they lose sight of the larger objective, they may ultimately lose the war.

Overall, the idiom "win the battle, but lose the war" encapsulates the concept of short-term victories leading to long-term failures or losses. It serves as a reminder to consider the larger context and objectives when making decisions or pursuing goals, emphasizing the importance of foresight, strategy, and long-term planning.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom "win the battle, but lose the war" can be used in a sentence:

  1. Although Tom managed to convince his team to work overtime to meet a tight deadline, they all ended up being exhausted and resentful, and productivity dropped significantly. Tom won the battle by getting the project completed on time, but he lost the war by damaging team morale and productivity in the long run.
  2. In a custody battle, one parent may win temporary custody of the child by presenting stronger evidence, but if the winning parent fails to provide a stable and nurturing environment in the long term, they may ultimately lose the war of being the primary caregiver.
  3. A company may engage in aggressive marketing tactics to gain a larger market share in the short term, leading them to win the battle against competitors. However, if these tactics damage their reputation and cause customers to lose trust in the brand, they may end up losing the war of sustaining long-term customer loyalty.

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