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The be-all and end-all

  • The be-all and end-all is one of the few idioms that may be traced to a specific source. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. 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. An idiom can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions, 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 figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker.  We will examine the definition of the phrase burning the midnight oil, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.


     

    The phrase the be-all and end-all is a noun that designates a thing that is much more important than all other things, the ultimate part of something. The be-all and end-all is the thing, idea, person or activity that is the most essential element in a person’s life, there are no substitutes or alternatives that can take its place. For instance, a man may be obsessed with his lover, and she may be said to be his be-all and end all. Another man may be obsessed with the game of golf, and golf may be said to be his be-all and end-all. The expression the be-all and end-all is not limited to people. Something essential for an institution, nation or company may be said to be the be-all and end-all. For instance, blockbuster comic book films have become the be-all and end-all for theater owners. The expression the be-all and end-all was coined by William Shakespeare. The phrase turns up in the play Macbeth, first produced in 1605: “If it were done, when ’tis done, then ’twere well / It were done quickly. If th’ assassination / Could trammel up the consequence, and catch / With his surcease, success: that but this blow / Might be the be-all and the end-all.” The idiom the be-all and end-all is slightly dated, but is still occasionally seen, especially among older people. Note that the words be-all and end-all are properly rendered with hyphens according to the Oxford English Dictionary, though the phrase is often seen spelled without hyphens.

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    Examples

    “As important as the drought contingency plan is, it’s a tourniquet, it’s a Band-Aid, it is not the be-all and end-all that would solve the structural deficit that exists in the river,” Mulroy said. (The Lewiston Tribune)

    “For some students who are highly anxious, perfectionists and experience that really intense stress around exam periods, it’s helpful for them to know that your exam marks aren’t the be-all and end-all,” Werner-Seidler says. (The Sydney Morning Herald)

    This quality and depth of community takes years to build up, defines societal resilience and health, and is supposedly the be-all and end-all of development policy and planning. (The Boulder Daily Camera)

    I asked him Monday if he understands there is a large portion of the basketball public that sees scoring as the be-all and end-all in this sport. (The Charlotte Observer)


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