What Does “The Be-All and End-All” Mean and Where Did the Phrase Come From?

Shakespeare introduced the expression, meaning “the ultimate or most important solution,” as dialogue for Macbeth.

Macbeth thinks about killing Duncan and wonders “that this blow might be the be-all and the end-all”, MacBeth I vii. IV.

Macbeth then says he would risk his status in the afterlife if it were true.

Today, Shakespeare’s second “the” is usually dropped but “the be-all and end-all” still means “the ultimate.”

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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