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What Does "at the End of the Day" Mean?

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  • Written By: Cynde Gregory
  • Edited By: PJP Schroeder
  • Last Modified Date: 29 August 2016
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Speaking a language fluently requires so much more than a sufficiently large vocabulary and a grasp of the finer aspects of that language’s grammar. Every language brims with subtext. Phrases have social meanings, cultural echoes, and even innuendos that are only available to certain members of the language’s group of speakers. In order to really communicate, a speaker must have a grasp of common idioms. At the end of the day, to use one of those idioms, they must become second nature.

The idiom "at the end of the day" is simultaneously imagistic, poetic, and relatively transparent in terms of meaning. It is an idiom with two jobs. In the first place, it sums up a number of prior pieces of information, and in the second place, it indicates what the information, taken together, ultimately means. It allows the speaker to consider, weigh the evidence, and draw a conclusion that seems somehow devoid of an excess of judgment.

For example, a team leader who is reviewing a project with coworkers might point out a number of decisions that were not well made. In spite of this, the project’s outcome was satisfactory. He or she might say to fellow team members, “At the end of the day, while we probably could have nudged the numbers higher, the results do indicate that our approach was successful.”

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There is something lovely and gentle about this idiom. It permits the speaker to analyze and reach an ultimate conclusion without being overly harsh. When this expression is spoken aloud, listeners feel they have been privy to the mental processes of the speaker as he or she has been thinking out loud. It is easier for the recipients of a decision to accept it if they feel they have somehow participated in it.

In the above example, should the results not have been satisfactory, the team leader could have said, “While everyone worked hard, some mistakes were made. At the end of the day, it looks like we fell a little short of our goal.” A lover trying to softly untangle the binds of love might tell his or her beloved, “You are wonderful and amazing, but at the end of the day, I know I’m not right for you.”

The phrase paints a dusky picture. It is twilight in a handful of syllables, the precise moment in which memories step in to add their dreamlike whispers of hope and regret. The phrase offers a sense of equilibrium and of peace.

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