What does the phrase “to burn the candle at both ends” mean and Where does it come from?

In the figurative sense the phrase “to burn the candle at both ends” originally referred to the wasting of one’s material wealth, as when a husband and wife were both spendthrifts.

We still use it with that sense, but our usual application is to the wasteful consumption of one’s physical powers, as when a person tries to work all day and write a book in his evenings and spare time.

It is not a new saying, and was not originally English, for Cotgrave, who died in 1611, records it in his French-English dictionary, “Brusler la chandelle par lex deux bouts.”

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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