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”:
sooner or later
in the long run