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A 1959 photograph of a forlorn boy (sense 2) mourning the sinking of his model boat in New Brighton, Merseyside, England, UK


From Middle English forlorn, forloren, from Old English forloren (past participle of forlēosan (to lose)), from Proto-Germanic *fraluzanaz (lost), past participle of Proto-Germanic *fraleusaną (to lose), equivalent to for- +‎ lorn. Cognate with West Frisian ferlern (lost), Saterland Frisian ferlädden (lost), Dutch verloren (lost), German Low German verloren (lost), German verloren (lost), Swedish förlorad (lost). See further at lese/leese, lorn.



forlorn (comparative forlorner or more forlorn, superlative forlornest or most forlorn)

  1. Abandoned, deserted, left behind.
  2. Miserable, as when lonely after being abandoned.
    Synonym: forsaken
  3. Unlikely to succeed; hopeless.
    • 1625, James Ussher, “Of Traditions”, in An Ansvver to a Challenge Made by a Iesuite in Ireland. Wherein the Iudgment of Antiquity in the Points Questioned, is Truly Delivered, and the Noveltie of the Now Romish Doctrine Plainely Discovered by Iames Vssher bishop of Meath. Whereunto is Added a Sermon Preached before His Majesty at Wansted, by the Same Author, London: Printed [by Humphrey Lownes] for the Society of Stationers, OCLC 228715552; republished in C[harles] R[ichard] Elrington, editor, The Whole Works of the Most Rev. James Ussher, D.D. Lord Archbishop of Armagh, and Primate of All Ireland, volume III, Dublin: Hodges & Smith; London: Whittaker & Co., [1831], OCLC 49005379, page 41:
      To begin therefore with Traditions, which is your forlorn hope that in the first place we are to set upon: this must I needs tell you before we begin, that you much mistake the matter, if you think that traditions of all sorts promiscuously are struck at by our religion.
    • 1859, Charles Dickens, “Dusk”, in A Tale of Two Cities, book III (The Track of a Storm), London: Chapman and Hall, [], OCLC 906152507, page 226:
      Well! It is a forlorn hope at the best, and not much the forlorner for being delayed till dark.
    • 1859, Mowbray Thomson, chapter VII, in The Story of Cawnpore, London: Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street, publisher in ordinary to Her Majesty, OCLC 973229909, pages 119–120:
      Mrs. Blair had lost her husband, who was a cavalry officer, in Cabool, at the memorable Khyber Pass; but as no precise tidings of his death had every been received, she cherished the forlorn hope that he was still living in captivity among the Affghans, and that some day it would be her happiness yet to be reunited with him, even on earth.

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forlorn (plural forlorns) (military)

  1. A forlorn hope.
    • 1659, Richard Elton, “Severall Firings to be Performed upon the Former Figure, and how to be Mannaged by the Severall Officers”, in The Compleat Body of the Art Military: Exactly Compiled, and Gradually Composed for the Foot, in the Best Refined Manner, According to the Practice of the Modern Times. [...], 2nd edition, London: Printed by R[obert] and W[illiam] Leybourn, in Monkswel-Street, in Lambes Chappel neer Criplegate, OCLC 8121231, book III, page 152:
      The Regiment being drawn up into the former Figure, they may proceed to Firings upon it, firſt let the Forlorns fire five or six times over, being commanded by the eldeſt Captains Lieutenant, who is to be aſſiſted by a couple of able Serjeants; after let him wheel off to the right and left, and bring them down in the Reer of the Pikes. Then let the ſecond Captains Lieutenant being aſſiſted by two Serjeants lead up the reſerves by the out-ſide of the Pikes, at ſuch time when the Forlorns begin to come off, []
    • 1765, [Thomas] Hutchinson, “[Appendix.] Number XXI. Major Walley’s Journal in the Expedition against Canada in 1692. A Narrative of the Proceedings to Canada, soe far as Concerned the Land Army.”, in The History of the Colony of Massachuset’s Bay, from the First Settlement thereof in 1628, until Its Incorporation with the Colony of Plimouth, Province of Main, &c. by the Charter of King William and Queen Mary, in 1691, 2nd edition, London: Printed for M. Richardson, in Pater-noster Row, OCLC 937920414, page 556:
      [] I ordered the forlorns to advance and to march, at their open order, towards the upland, and by this time the tide was upon the ground wee ſtood on: The forlorn were no ſooner advanced a few rods, before there was firing on both ſides; []
    • 1782, “a Shropshire gentleman” [i.e., Daniel Defoe], “Memoirs of a Cavalier, &c. Part Second.”, in E. Staveley, editor, The History of the Civil Wars in Germany, from the Year 1630 to 1635: Also Genuine Memoirs of the Wars of England, in the Unhappy Reign of Charles the First; Containing the Whole History of Those Miserable Times; until the King Lost His Head on the Scaffold, in the Memorable Year 1648, Newark, Nottinghamshire: Printed by James Tomlinson, for the publisher, OCLC 875128661, page 339:
      I was this day in the van, and our forlorn having entered Huntingdon without any great reſiſtance till they came to the bridge, finding it barricaded, they ſent me word; I cauſed the troops to halt, and rode up to the forlorn, to view the countenance of the enemy, and found by the poſture they had put themſelves in, that they reſolved to ſell us the paſſage as dear as they could.
    • 1861, Evert A[ugustus] Duyckinck, “Henry Lee”, in National Portrait Gallery of Eminent Americans: Including Orators, Statesmen, Naval and Military Heroes, Jurists, Authors, etc., etc., from the Original Full Length Paintings by Alonzo Chappel. With Biographical and Historical Narratives, [...] In Two Volumes, volume I, New York, N.Y.: Johnson, Fry & Company, 27 Beekman Street, OCLC 956540482, page 236:
      The garrison, taken by surprise, had the first intelligence of the assault in the "forlorns plunging into the canal."
  2. A member of a forlorn hope.



  1. (obsolete) past participle of forlese.