"It ain't over till (or until) the fat lady sings" is a colloquialism which is often used as a proverb. It means that one should not presume to know the outcome of an event which is still in progress. More specifically, the phrase is used when a situation is (or appears to be) nearing its conclusion. It cautions against assuming that the current state of an event is irreversible and clearly determines how or when the event will end. The phrase is most commonly used in association with organized competitions, particularly sports.
The phrase is generally understood to be a reference to opera sopranos, who were typically heavyset. The imagery of Wagner's opera cycle Der Ring des Nibelungen and its last part, Götterdämmerung, is typically used in depictions accompanying uses of the phrase. The "fat lady" is thus the valkyrie Brünnhilde, who was traditionally presented as a very buxom lady. Her farewell scene lasts almost twenty minutes and leads directly to the finale of the whole Ring Cycle. As Götterdämmerung is about the end of the world (or at least the world of the Norse gods), in a very significant way "it is [all] over when the fat lady sings."
Despite his obvious allegiance to the Red Raiders, Texas Tech sports information director Ralph Carpenter was the picture of professional objectivity when the Aggies rallied for a 72–72 tie late in the SWC tournament finals. "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."
In the same newspaper on November 26, 2006, Steve Blow followed up the discovery by contacting Bill Morgan about the incident:
Bill vividly remembers the comment and the uproar it caused throughout the press box. He always assumed it was coined on the spot. "Oh, yeah, it was vintage Carpenter. He was one of the world’s funniest guys," said Bill, a contender for that title himself.
The 1976 use of the phrase was discovered by Fred R. Shapiro, who published it in The Yale Book of Quotations. It had previously been attributed to sportswriter and broadcaster Dan Cook, who used the phrase after the first basketball game between the San Antonio Spurs and the Washington Bullets (now the Washington Wizards) during the 1978 NBA Playoffs. Cook used the line to illustrate that while the Spurs had won once, the series was not over yet. Shapiro called this a notable example of misattribution.
Phrases with similar meanings
- "The game isn't over until the final out" is an older aphorism pertaining to baseball, meaning that even if one team is behind, they always have a chance of winning until the third out of the final inning completes the game.
- "It ain't over till it's over", a variation of the above phrase popularized by baseball player Yogi Berra.
- "Don't count your chickens before they hatch", a well-known saying which originated in the 16th century.
- "The future isn't carved in stone", "nothing is carved in stone" or "it isn't carved in stone" is a phrase meaning that the future can always be changed.
- Non dire gatto se non ce l'hai nel sacco, once cited in English as "Don't say cat if you don't have it in the sack [bag]," is an Italian saying used in informal and funny contexts, popularized by football trainer Giovanni Trapattoni.
- "Why are opera singers fat?". The Register. June 23, 2006.
- "Libretti Götterdämmerung". Richard Wagner. Archived from the original on October 24, 2016. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
- Pincus, David (March 9, 2010). "Today in Sports History: March 10th". SBNation. Vox Media, Inc. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
- Blow, Steve (November 26, 2006). "Fat lady first sang in the pages of The News". Dallas Morning News.
- Adams, Cecil (October 25, 1991). "What's the origin of "the opera ain't over till the fat lady sings?"". The Straight Dope. Retrieved January 30, 2015.
- Shapiro, Fred R., ed. (2006). The Yale Book of Quotations. Yale University Press. p. xix. ISBN 978-0-300-10798-2.