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What Does "All's Well that Ends Well" Mean?

An idiom is a turn of phrase that doesn't make sense when literally translated.
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  • Written By: Bethney Foster
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 24 July 2014
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The idiomatic expression “all’s well that ends well” is usually used when a particularly messy set of circumstances results in a desired conclusion. The saying means that, despite the situations, problems, or chaos that may have ensued in an effort to reach the desired conclusion, it is fine as long as the end result is positive. The phrase can also mean that, even though a set of circumstances didn’t begin in a positive way, the situation resolved itself in an acceptable manner. The phrase can sometimes be analogous with the idiom “the ends justify the means.”

Other similar, though slightly different, interpretations of the phrase may include using the idiom to express feelings that the difficulties of accomplishing a goal are not so important once the goal had been accomplished. It could also be used to express the sentiment that, once a task or journey is finished, the situations endured to get to the end seem acceptable, even though the situations may not have seemed acceptable at the time. The phrase "all's well that ends well" is generally not used until the journey, task, or goal has been completed. There are occasional instances where the phrase is used in the middle of a calamity to express optimism that the current situation won't matter as long as the ending is positive.

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“All’s well that ends well” is a British idiom and was most likely made popular by Shakespeare’s play that took the idiom as its title. The play, believed to have been written about 1604, tells the story of Helena, who endures many difficulties and circumstances, and uses tricks and deceit to get her true love to acknowledge her as his wife. Helena’s lines include the phrase “all’s well that ends well.”

The idiom was likely already in common usage among the British before Shakespeare’s play was introduced, although Shakespeare is often, incorrectly, given credit for coining the phrase. A Finnish proverb that likely came into usage about the same time is translated into English as “the beginning is always difficult, in the end stands the thank.” The idiom "all's well that ends well" was included in a collection of English proverbs compiled by John Heywood in 1546. Heywood worked for Henry VIII as a singer and playwright, and his collection of proverbs include many sayings that continue to be used in the English language today.

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