A light at the end of the tunnel

  • A light at the end of the tunnel is an idiom that dates back at least to the 1880s. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common saying a light at the end of the tunnel, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.


    A light at the end of the tunnel means that one can see a cause for hope that a bad situation will end; a difficult job will soon be finished. The phrase a light at the end of the tunnel is a noun phrase referring to the hope for an end to a difficult time and is often expressed as see the light at the end of the tunnel. The image is of one passing through a dark space toward illumination. The phrase is found in old newspapers and other publications in the 1880s as a metaphor for hope. The phrase a light at the end of the tunnel was popularized by President John Kennedy in the mid-1960s in reference to the conflict in Vietnam.



    Pfizer’s vaccine announcement gave the equity market the vision and hope that some semblance of “normal” was closer than previously assumed; perhaps a light at the end of the tunnel. (Forbes Magazine)

    “They’ve got a light at the end of the tunnel and they know what we’re training for now, whereas before, it was a world of uncertainty for all sorts of different reasons.” (The Nashville Post)

    Yes, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, to use another cliché, as the California Coastal Commission approved a permit to replace and reconfigure Dana Point Harbor. (The Log Newspaper)

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