Forlorn hope

Forlorn hope

Forlorn hope is a military term that comes from the Dutch "verloren hoop", literally "lost heap", and adapted as "lost troop". ["Oxford English Dictionary": forlorn hope] [cite book
last = Kilian
first = Cornelius
authorlink = :nl:Cornelius Kiliaan
coauthors =
title = Etymologicum Teutonicæ Linguæ
publisher = Jan Moretus (cited in "Oxford English Dictionary")
date = 1593
location = Antwerp
pages =
url =
doi =
id =
isbn =
] [ [ "Merriam Webster"] : forlorn hope] [cite web
last =
first =
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language
work =
publisher = Bartleby
date = 2000
url =
format =
doi =
accessdate = 2008-04-03
] The Dutch word "hoop" (in its sense of "heap" in English) is not cognate with English "hope": this is an example of false folk etymology. [cite book
last = Newman
first = John B
authorlink =
coauthors = Lawrence J Raphael; Carolyn B Raphael; Miriam R Valdodinos (Eds.)
title = Language and Cognition: Essays in Honor of Arthur J. Bronstein
publisher = Plenum Press
date = 1984
location = New York
pages = p203
url =
doi =
id =
isbn =0306414333
] [cite book
last = Todd
first = Loreto
authorlink =
coauthors = Ian Hancock
title = International English Usage
publisher = Routledge
date = 1990
location = London
pages = p233
url =
doi =
id =
isbn =0415051029
] [cite book
last = Attridge
first = Derek
authorlink =
coauthors =
title = Peculiar Language: Literature as Difference from the Renaissance to James Joyce
publisher = Cornell University Press
date = 1988
location = Ithaca NY
pages = p112
url =
doi =
id =
isbn = 0415340578

In the days of muzzle-loading muskets it was most frequently used to refer to the first wave of soldiers attacking a breach in defences during a siege. It was likely that most members of the "forlorn hope" would be killed or wounded. The intention was that some would survive long enough to seize a foothold that could be reinforced, or at least that a second wave with better prospects could be sent in while the defenders were reloading or engaged in mopping up the remnants of the first wave.

A forlorn hope was typically led by a junior officer with hopes of personal advancement. If he survived, and performed courageously, he was almost guaranteed both a promotion and a long-term boost to his career prospects. As a result, despite the risks, there was often competition for the opportunity to lead the assault. The French equivalent of the Forlorn Hope, called "Les Enfants Perdus" or "The Lost Children", were all guaranteed promotion to officers should they survive, and on both sides men took up the suicidal mission as an opportunity to raise themselves in the army.

There was a symmetry between the risks faced by the forlorn hope and those faced by the defenders. Once a breach suitable for assault had been made in the walls, defenders were usually given a chance to surrender safely. The defenders had already shown their determination and there would be no loss of honour in surrender. If however they chose not to take this opportunity, forcing the attackers to undertake an assault, the usages of war made them subject to massacre, and made the position (often a town or city) that they were holding subject to being sacked and pillaged (see looting) as described by Shakespeare's Henry V before the walls of Harfleur:

:How yet resolves the governor of the town? :This is the latest parle we will admit; :Therefore to our best mercy give yourselves, :Or like to men proud of destruction :Defy us to our worst;

By extension, the term "forlorn hope" became used for any body of troops placed in a hazardous position; e.g. an exposed outpost, or the defenders of an outwork in advance of the main defensive position. This usage was especially common in accounts of the English Civil War, as well as in the British Army in the Peninsular War of 1808-1814.

ee also

*Cannon fodder
*A fictionalized account of a Forlorn Hope mission set in the nonfiction setting of the Battle of Badajoz (1812) can be found in the Richard Sharpe novel "Sharpe's Company" by Bernard Cornwell.


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  • Forlorn Hope — ist ein militärischer Begriff, der sich aus dem niederländischen Begriff „verloren hoop“ ableitet, nicht aus dem Englischen. Gemeint ist damit der sogenannte „verlorene Haufen“, was im weiteren, ins Englische übertragenen Sinne „lost heap“… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • forlorn hope — n. [altered < Du verloren hoop, lit., lost group < verloren, pp. of verliezen, to lose (akin to FORLORN) + hoop, a band, group; akin to HEAP] 1. a group of soldiers detached from the main group for a very dangerous mission 2. a desperate… …   English World dictionary

  • forlorn hope — ► forlorn hope a persistent or desperate hope that is unlikely to be fulfilled. [ORIGIN: from Dutch verloren hoop lost troop , originally denoting a band of soldiers picked to begin an attack, many of whom would not survive.] Main Entry: ↑forlorn …   English terms dictionary

  • forlorn hope — now means only ‘a faint hope, an enterprise which has little hope of success’, but its form has nothing to do with the English word hope. It was a 16c adaptation of Dutch verloren hoop, literally meaning ‘lost troop’, and in English originally… …   Modern English usage

  • forlorn hope — forlorn′ hope′ n. 1) a perilous or desperate enterprise 2) a vain hope 3) Obs. a group of soldiers assigned to perform some unusually dangerous service • Etymology: 1530–40 …   From formal English to slang

  • forlorn hope — index pessimism Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • forlorn hope — noun /fəˌlɔːnˈhəʊp/ a) A small troop picked to make an advance attack, or the first attack; a storming party. Arnold, therefore, as usual with him, led the forlorn hope, marching about one hundred yards before the main body. b) Any dangerous or… …   Wiktionary

  • forlorn hope — a persistent or desperate hope that is unlikely to be fulfilled. [C16: from Du. verloren hoop lost troop , orig. denoting a band of soldiers picked to begin an attack, many of whom would not survive.] → forlorn …   English new terms dictionary

  • Forlorn Hope — ♦ Assault or storming party with little hope of success, or if successful, little hope of survival. (Wise, Terence. Medieval Warfare, 248) …   Medieval glossary

  • forlorn hope — 1. a perilous or desperate enterprise. 2. a vain hope. 3. Obs. a group of soldiers assigned to perform some unusually dangerous service. [1530 40; folk etymological alter. of D verloren hoop lit., lost troop] * * * …   Universalium

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