At the End of the Day

background image 92

A reader has asked me to “shed some light” on the expression “at the end of the day”:

I know it means “after everything has been taken into consideration” and it is an integral part of our everyday vocabulary but some of my colleagues seem to find it inappropriate in its function. Could you please help me understand this better?

Clichéd expressions are a part of our everyday vocabulary, but some clichés are more annoying than others.

Most of us have no problem with the occasional “hard as a rock,” “old as dirt” or “crazy as a betsy/bessie bug.” These are venerable expressions that can convey just the tone we are aiming for. They blend unobtrusively into our speech because they add a specific meaning in a way that suits a certain style of speaking.

Unlike idioms that are used conversationally among friends, newly fashionable clichés find their way into print, in everything from speeches on foreign policy to product reviews.

A “good” cliché is one that does its job without irritating. A “bad” cliché calls attention to itself.

“At the end of the day” is a bad cliché. It’s bad because it’s wordy, it’s overused, and it has a common literal meaning.

The following passages indicate the ubiquity of this phrase’s figurative use:

Palestinians need to know that at the end of the day, their territory is going to be free of Israeli troops, that occupation ends. –John Kerry, US Secretary of State, 2014.

But, at the end of the day, presidents get elected to enact change. –Mark McKinnon, American political advisor.

I’m not suggesting that people go into space in a pedestrian way — but at the end of the day, she’s fighting for what every woman would fight for, and that’s her baby. –Jay Bobbin, movie reviewer.

At the end of the day, the owners are all about the business side of things. –Steven Lebron, sports writer.

At the end of the day, I don’t think wanting education to be better is a right-wing or left-wing thing.” –Bill Gates, education reformer.

But you know when you put lipstick on a pig, at the end of the day, it’s still a pig. –John Edwards, political candidate in 2004.

but at the end of the day, your choice [of smart phone] comes down to either a smaller device to fit in your hand or a massive device with a screen nearly as large as a tablet’s. –Product review.

The literal meaning of “at the end of the day” is “at the end of the day.” (Duh.)

In the context of business and the workday, the “end of the day” is five o’clock or whenever the day’s business or work is done. Here are examples of the literal use of “at the end of the day”:

In emergency situations, call your local law enforcement agency at the end of the day if the Division of Child and Family Services has not responded to your report. –Directions for the reporting of suspected child abuse.

At the end of the day, the defense rested their case. The trial will continue Wednesday morning. –Herald-Democrat (OK).

The best time to measure your feet is at the end of the day when your feet are largest. –Recommendations for buying shoes.

Here are some possible alternatives to the figurative use of “at the end of the day”:

some time
at length
one day
in time
sooner or later
in the long run

Stop making those embarrassing mistakes! Subscribe to Daily Writing Tips today!

You will improve your English in only 5 minutes per day, guaranteed!

Each newsletter contains a writing tip, word of the day, and exercise!

You'll also get three bonus ebooks completely free!

25 thoughts on “At the End of the Day”

  1. Oh, Maeve, I agree whole-heartedly that the use of “at the end of the day” as a figurative phrase stinks!
    I believe that this phrase originated in the Middle East among reporters whose native tongue is NOT English. Hence the phrase is a word-for-word translation of some expression in Arabic, Hebrew, French, or maybe all three. Maybe Turkish or Farsi are also involved.
    In any case that phrase should not be used this way in English, no matter what Sec. Kerry says. Word-for-word translations of foreign

  2. More possible alternatives:
    In conclusion
    At the conclusion
    At some time
    At doomsday
    When we get our heads together
    After some heads get knocked together
    After both sides have seen the light

  3. More alternatives:
    When we all get our shit together
    When the cows come home
    When the chickens go to roost
    When the sun goes down
    When fanaticism yields to reason
    When pseudoscience yields to scientific

  4. Thank you to the reader who asked the question; thank you, Maeve, for your answer and for the alternatives to “at the end of the day.” That expression has been annoying me for a long time.
    One-word choices, such as “ultimately,” should work in most cases. At the most, “in the end” is the longest phrase I’d use.

  5. It’s also used as a trendy and figurative expression that may not always relate only to the end of a period of time, but also in conjunction with the end of a series of events or a process of observation, such as:
    The bottom line is……
    In summary…..
    In totality……
    The point is………
    in addition to the others mentioned previously. I agree it’s overused in an annoying kind of way.

  6. I have to be blunt. Far, far more unsettling than “at the end of the day” is to see “duh” used in any context whatsoever. A cousin of mine used to speak it aloud and it has festered in my gut for decades. It is even worse in print. “With all due respect,” (there’s a bad one, too), please reconsider in the future. Alternatives? Plenty.

  7. Correction:
    When pseudoscience yields to scientific thinking.
    That is something that would work wonders in the Middle East, Ukraine, Kosovo, Nigeria, Kashmir, North Korea and many other places. What is scientific about living in “refugee camps” for decades? Murdering innocent people?

  8. I guess I’m in the minority here. I am not at all bothered by the phrase “at the end of the day.” I can’t say I’ve ever used it myself; I think I’m more inclined to say “When all is said and done” or “Bottom line is…” I think I could also use “When all the dust settles…” as alternatives. But I would not fault anyone, or consider it annoying, to hear today’s phrase.
    @Mike Rose: I don’t know how long “duh” has been around; I haven’t researched it (though I could, and get back to you on it in, let’s say, 135 minutes…or the average time between DAW’s numerous posts here…). With all due respect (to you, duh), what do you propose as alternatives to this one-word expression, which conveys so much in just 3 letters? I am in favor of it for casual speech. I would not expect to hear Mr. Obama or the Queen of England use it…at least not publicly.

  9. I was hoping that someone who is fluent in Arabic, Hebrew, French, Farsi, etc., might be able to explain the abundance of “at the end of the day” among reporters and politicians from the Middle East.

    Also, perhaps they say it because they are afraid to say “When everyone sees the light of reason,” “After we get our heads together,” “After fanaticism yields to reason – e.g. Thou shalt not kill, as the 10 Commandments are accepted by reasonable Moslems, as well as by Jews and Christians.”
    Agnostics accept “Thou shalt not kill”, “Thou shalt not steal,” “Thou shalt not lie,” and “Thou shalt not covet.”

  10. Concerning the Middle East and Ukraine, peace will break out not “at the end of the day” but rather as soon as everyone there “gets his head screwed on straight.”

    That is what it took in Germany, Austria, Italy, and Japan. Getting one’s shit together helped a whale of a lot in learning to live together in peace.

    Sorry, Palestinians, Israelis, Mr. Nethanyahu , Sec. Kerry, fanatics, etc.

  11. I guess I’m in the minority here, too. The first time I remember hearing “at the end of the day” was from a British professor when I was in graduate school. He had just given me a very sizable project and said that at the end of the day he wanted some conclusion. I took him literally and was panicked. Seriously. I had never heard it before. And what’s more, from that point on until fairly recently, as far as I know, I’ve only heard it from Britishers. Maybe for some reason I only noticed it when they said it, but I always took it for a Britishism that had just recently caught on here for some reason. And the end of the day, I don’t think it’s annoying but I think it sounds affected coming from an American.

  12. @venqax: Is “huh” as objectionable as “duh”? Just askin’. 😉
    I don’t think it’s an affected phrase coming from an American. You took it literally because you had never heard it used before, and maybe your panicked state has left an indelible impression on you when you hear or use that phrase! As I said, I don’t think I use it, but it doesn’t sound odd to me at all.
    @DAW: Not sure what you’re on about the Middle-East thing. I am fluent in Hebrew and have NO idea what you’re talking about. Yes the phrase is used the same in Israel as it is here (pronounced more or less as “sofe ha-yome,” literally “the end of the day”), but what of it? Hebrew has other expressions for the concept just as English does, as Maeve covered in the post. And I for one would like to think of DWT as a haven for staying on topic as much as possible and not tangentially shooting off into whatever planet you inhabit at times that causes you to veer so, so far off.

  13. Venqax – open up your ears:
    TV reporters in the Middle East use the figurative form of “At the end of the day”
    ALL THE TIME, and they are not Americans.
    Mostly they are Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians, Syrians, Frenchmen, Lebanese, etc. Just because you have not been listening does not give you the right to scoff at the fact.

    Why is it that you never say “Maybe so” about something that you have never heard of? You immediately go into the scoffing and complaining mode w/o foundation.

  14. The above also applies to thebluebird11. Just because you have not heard it does not mean that it is not widespread. I do recall your mentioning that you do not have a TV.
    Reports on violence, malnutrition, and strife in the Middle East have been recurrent all this year.
    Will there be peace “at the end of the day”?
    No, it will take a lot more effort than that.

  15. “At the end of the day” is a commonly used expression in British English – even if it’s not so common in American English.

    It is a very popular cliché amongst English sports commentators, soccer coaches and players, and the like. The phrase has got nothing to do with “Seeing the light of reason”, or fanaticism, or refugee camps, or the ten commandments. If it is a word-for-word translation of a foreign idiom – Farsi, Persion, Hebrew, Arabic, or whatever – I daresay it happened quite some time ago, and completely devoid of any connection to the middle east.

    This has got to be one of the most bizarre collection of determinedly tangential diversions gathered together in one thread on what is – generally – a writing based web site.

  16. Maeve,

    I think those etiquette tips need posting more often, sadly. There’s a difference between reading, and understanding and applying, too.

    Some other words for understanding are:

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist…. :-))

  17. @DAW: You must have misunderstood (see Jon’s post for alternative words to express that), since I was agreeing with you that the phrase is widely used in Hebrew, exactly as used here; in other words, it is used literally to mean “at the end of this day,” and it is used figuratively to mean “bottom line” or similar.
    @Jon: What a long, strange post it’s been.

  18. @DAW: TV reporters in the Middle East use the figurative form of “At the end of the day” ALL THE TIME, and they are not Americans.
    And that’s what I said– I had never heard Americans say it. Open up your… something, DAW. I didn’t say anything at all about Israelis, Palestinians, Jordanians, Egyptians, Syrians, Frenchmen, Lebanese, (could you please make your examples more exhaustive? What about Yemenis, Emirians, Qataris, Nauruans, Fuegean… hold on, I’m going to get my atlas.)

    Why is it that you never say “Maybe so” about something that you have never heard of? I said I always took it for a Britishism. Do you have a rational problem with that? The last thing I would want is for people on DWT to start posting long and rambling verbal flights regarding subjects that they don’t really know much about. Imagine how badly that could go!

    Will there be sense “at the end of the DAW”?
    No, it will take a lot more effort than that.

  19. @venqax: You crack me up! I am waiting with bated breath for you to pull out your atlas…what’s taking so long?

  20. This expression has never bothered be. I have heard it in the wilds of the American business community, but it never struck me as over used.
    I understand it and find it effective…usually. I did once take part in a conversation where our manager used the expression, and one party complained that he didn’t think those goals could be completed by the close of business that day. But I’ve seen similar confusion from many good idioms.

    I also enjoy the song from Les Mis.

  21. I first heard “at the end of the day” while working in the British legal system in 1981 and holding the unlikely job title of “outdoor clerk.” My employer was a firm of solicitors on Old Bond Street and I was sent to Crown Courts, the Middle Temple and HM prisons on a daily basis to take notes. I quickly noticed that this phrase was being used very frequently, mostly to refer to the final decision in a case. I took to it at once, but I’ve never employed it myself in conversation.

Leave a Comment