At a loss


      • feeling confused or perplexed
        Expressing a state of uncertainty or confusion, often due to being unable to understand or solve a problem or situation.

      • lacking something
        Referring to a state of being without something, often used in financial or material contexts.

      • unsure of what to do or say
        Describing a state of indecision or hesitation, typically in a social or interpersonal context.

    Examples of At a loss

    • The detective was at a loss when the prime suspect turned out to have an alibi for the time of the crime.

      The detective didn't know what to do or how to proceed because the evidence didn't support their initial theory.

    • After the team's star player got injured, the coach was at a loss for how to replace their scoring and leadership abilities.

      The coach didn't know who to put in the player's place or how to fill the void left by their absence.

    • When the power went out during the presentation, the speaker was at a loss for how to continue without visual aids.

      The speaker didn't know what to do or how to continue without the use of slides or other visuals.

    • The writer was at a loss for words when trying to describe the beauty of the sunset.

      The writer didn't know how to express the magnificence of the sunset in words.

    • The student was at a loss when asked a question in class that they didn't know the answer to.

      The student didn't know what to say or how to respond to the question.


    The idiom "at a loss" can have a few different meanings, but they all center around a feeling of confusion or uncertainty. It can describe being unable to understand or solve a problem, lacking something, or being unsure of what to do or say. In all cases, it expresses a state of being at a loss for a clear solution or course of action.

    Origin of "At a loss"

    The origin of this idiom is believed to come from the world of business and finance. In accounting, a person is said to be "at a loss" when they have incurred more expenses than income, resulting in a negative balance or loss. This usage then expanded to describe a general state of lacking something, whether it be money, resources, or knowledge.

    Another possible origin of this idiom could come from the game of chess. When a player is unable to make a move that benefits their position, they are said to be "at a loss." This sense of being stuck or unable to make progress is similar to the feeling of being at a loss in other contexts.

    Overall, the idiom "at a loss" has evolved to encompass a range of meanings, all related to a state of confusion or uncertainty. Its origins in finance and gaming demonstrate how language can adapt and expand to be used in various contexts.