A means to an end

A means to an end is an idiom with an uncertain origin. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase, or phrasal verbs that have a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. These figures of speech often use descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often colloquialisms or descriptors that are spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase or expression 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 have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, bite the bullet, beat a dead horse, hit the nail on the head, kicked the bucket, blow off steam, jump on the bandwagon, piece of cake, hit the sack, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. 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 possible to memorize a list of idioms, but it may be easier to pay attention to the use of idioms in everyday speech, where peculiar imagery will tell you that the expressions should not be taken literally. We will examine the meaning of the idiomatic phrase a means to an end, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

A means to an end refers to an action or strategy that is a method to achieve a higher goal. The means in this phrase is something that is not, in itself, valued; however, it must be accomplished or endured to achieve a larger goal. For instance, you may not enjoy going to lunch with your boss, but this action will ingratiate you to him and lead to a promotion. In this case, going to lunch with your boss is a means to an end. The expression a means to an end seems to have arisen sometime in the mid-1800s, though its origin is uncertain. It may be a rephrasing of the proverb, the end justifies the means.


“It’s a means to an end to get our Police Department back.” (The Albuquerque Journal)

Profit should be pereceived as a means to an end rather than the end itself. (Forbes)

An MBA is something that shouldn’t just be considered as a means to an end, or as a qualification that won’t give you a return for all the hard work you put in. (The Apopka Voice)

“Financial inclusion is not the objective; just getting that—included—is not the objective, it’s really that we are able to access financial services for our good, for us to achieve our financial objectives toward improving the quality of our lives for small businesses to be able to use financing for it to grow and generate jobs, but for the agriculture sector to be able to access financing to increase productivity so it’s really a means to an end,” she said. (The Business Mirror)

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