flash in the pan

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From the days of flintlock firearms, where the main charge was intended to be fired by a small charge of gunpowder in the priming pan. If the resultant fire did not pass through the touch-hole and ignite the main charge, the momentary coruscation produced noise and smoke, but no substantial effect, and was termed a “flash in the pan”. Sometimes called "fluff in the pan", the term refers to any ineffectual, short, spasmodic effort that dies in the attempt, such as an explosion of priming in the lockpan of a gun while the gun itself does not go off.


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flash in the pan (plural flashes in the pan or flash in the pans)

  1. (idiomatic) A transient occurrence with no long-term effect.
    The concept turned out to be merely a flash in the pan and is no longer used.
  2. (idiomatic) A career notable for early success not followed by significant accomplishment.
    He was named best new director of 1940, but his career was a flash in the pan.


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