What does the phrase “forlorn hope” mean and Where does it come from?

Things are not always what they seem, and this is one of such. What we have in the expression “forlorn hope” is really an English spelling of a Dutch phrase, not at all a translation.

The Dutch spelling is verloren hoop, which sounds very much like the English “forlorn hope.” But hoop doesn’t mean “hope”; it means “troop” or “band.” And verloren doesn’t quite mean “forlorn”; it means “abandoned” or “wasted”

The Dutch term is of military origin; it designated a small band of soldiers, usually volunteers, who undertook some perilous expedition, such as heading an attack against the foe, or rushing forward the scaling ladders to breach a fortress.

In modem military parlance they would be called “shock troops.”

But because casualties were very high and the chance of success always doubtful, “forlorn hope” has now the non-military meaning, “an enterprise having little prospect of success.”

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

1 thought on “What does the phrase “forlorn hope” mean and Where does it come from?”

  1. Verloren, means lost. In both sences; lost as in unhappy, or sad not knowing what to do and lost as in lost your way, or lost an item. Hoop just means hope. Not troops or anything. Hoop can also mean; pile. a pile of clothes= een hoop kleren. So if you would call a group of people a pile of people, then maybe. Hoop can also mean: a lot; as in thats a lot of work= dat is een hoop werk.

    So verloren hoop means; lost hope or sad/lost pile/group.

    Hopefully ( hopelijk) this helped.

    xx Anna

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