make (both) ends meet

Discuss word origins and meanings.
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make (both) ends meet

Post by Ken Greenwald » Wed Jun 12, 2013 5:26 am

aaa
<2013 “But with many families requiring two incomes to make ends meet, the country is quickly leaving the ‘Leave it to Beaver’ model.”—The Week, 14 June, page 18>
MAKE (BOTH) ENDS MEET: To earn and spend equal amounts of money (usually in reference to a meager living with little if any money after basic expenses.); earn just enough money to live on; to live within one’s income; earn or have enough money to live on without getting into debt; to cope financially. <I have to work at two jobs to make ends meet.> <Through better budgeting, I am learning to make both ends meet.>
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So the question is, where did this expression come from – what ‘ends’ are meeting? Unfortunately the origin is the dreaded ‘uncertain,’ but I think it is interesting to see how the following sources stumble around in an effort to at least come up with something:

ENCYCLOPEDIA OF WORD AND PHRASE ORIGINS

MAKE ENDS MEET: The phrase seems to be merely a shortening of to make both ends of the year meet meaning the same—‘to live within one’s income.’ Smollett first recorded the saying in his picaresque novel The Adventures of Roderick Random (1748). [[The problem here is that the phrase ‘make ends meet’ first appeared in the 17th century (see below), so this can’t be right. If anything, Smollett’s form is an extension rather than a shortening (see below). And this listing fails to say how their definition relates to Smollett’s form – what are the ‘ends’ and how do they meet?]]
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AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY OF IDIOMS

MAKE ENDS MEET: . . . . . The expression originated as make both ends meet, a translation from the French joindre les deux bouts [[make ends meet]]) (by John Clarke, 1639). The ends, it is assumed, allude to the sum total of income and expenditures. However, naval surgeon and novelist Tobias Smollett had it as ‘make the two ends of the year meet’ (Roderick Random, 1748), thought to go back to the common practice of splicing rope ends together in order to cut shipboard expenses. [[What work did John Clark translate in 1639? And it would have been nice to know the French definition and derivation. In the ‘it is assumed . . .', who did the assuming? Also, ‘sum total’ is singular but ‘ends’ is plural – the above doesn't compute!]]
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FACTS ON FILE DICTIONARY OF CLICHÉS

MAKE ENDS MEET: . . . . . Some writers claim that the ends in question are the beginning and end of the (fiscal) year, and indeed the phrase was stated by Tobias Smollett in 1748. Earlier examples are less specific, and the word end could equally well denote the sum total (end result or ‘bottom line’) of income and expenditure. [[The phrase is ‘make ends meet’ and ‘ends ≠ end,’ so ‘beginning and end of the (fiscal) year’ makes more sense than the ‘sum total.’]]
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ALLEN’S ENGLISH PHRASES

MAKE (BOTH) ENDS MEET: An early use by Thomas Fuller (1608 -1661) in his biographical work The History of the Worthies of England (published posthumously in 1662): ‘Worldly wealth he cared not for, desiring onely to make both ends meet.’ A few years later the glossary known as The Dictionary of the Canting Crew (1690) included the maxim. ‘Tis good to make both ends meet.’ The meaning of the phrase is uncertain. Many seek an association in accounting, the ‘ends’ referring to the beginning and end of the year, during which one’s income must last. This use is supported by the use of the phrase in an extended form make the two ends of the year meet (and in French there is an equivalent phrase joindre les deux bouts de l’an), but we do not find this until the 18th century. It is therefore likely to be a late extension as an insight into its origin. An alternative suggestion, that it has to do with the amount of material needed to make a piece of clothing reach round the body, so that its ‘two ends meet,’ is no more than speculation, weakened by the absence of any allusion in ordinary usage, as happens with the financial associations. [[A better job than the rest. And he does shed some light on the Smollett quote.]]
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(Oxford Compact Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary of Idioms, Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, Allen’s English Phrases, McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs and The American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms)
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And here is my two cents worth of something spectacularly original. I looked through the OED and came across the following obsolete definition of ‘meet.’

MEET Obsolete intransitive verb [1579]: To agree, tally, match.

This supports the balancing the budget notion – the two ends being equal, the starting balance and the ending balance being the same, income just covering expenses (time frame not specified), and consequently the ends ‘match/agree.’ Of course, that’s not the greatest outcome, but it’s better than ending up with a loss and in debt. This meaning seems to fit well in Allen’s above 1662 quote: ‘Worldly wealth he cared not for, desiring onely to make both ends meet‘ with the ‘only’ intimating that he is not looking to come out ahead. This meaning of ‘meet’ also seems to be in agreement with the above current definitions of the phrase.
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The following quotes are from archived sources:
<1896 “The pastor says the congregation is too small and his family too large to make ends meet, . . .”—New York Times, 15 February>

<1931 “But the family is having a difficult time to make ends meet and would like food for the holiday.”—The Pittsburgh Press (Pennsylvania), 21 December, page 2>

<1984 “In a society once proud of living easily off its riches, men make ends meet by digging up earthworms and selling them to Sunday fishermen along the Rio de la Plata in Buenos Aires.”—The Atlantic, 1 January>

<1999 “Nowadays it is hard for a man with five children and 10 servants to make both ends meet.”—Chicago Sun-Times (Illinois), 6 June> [[Franklin Roosevelt some 20 years before his presidency. He’d be crucified if he said this today even jokingly]]

<2013 “Newspapers carry heartbreaking stories of families evicted from modest apartments, people losing their jobs and then their health benefits, young and not-so-young women turning to prostitution to make ends meet, even suicides by self- immolation.”—International Herald Tribune, 10 June>
The end.
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Ken G – June 10, 2013
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Re: make (both) ends meet

Post by Wizard of Oz » Wed Jun 12, 2013 8:42 am

.. *sound of two hands clapping* .. BRAVO BRAVO !!!! .. my ends have at last met .. did you hear the one about the actress and bishop making both ends meet .. *wink* .. a whole new etymology ..

WoZ impressed
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Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: make (both) ends meet

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Jun 12, 2013 10:10 am

Just as we think we can make ends meet, somebody else moves the ends.
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Re: make (both) ends meet

Post by G.Singh » Wed Jun 12, 2013 11:28 am

I didnot know about the making of "both ends meet"..

Its a nice info...
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Re: make (both) ends meet

Post by Bobinwales » Wed Jun 12, 2013 4:46 pm

When I was growing up the district was so poor that even the sausage maker couldn't make both ends meat.
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Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: make (both) ends meet

Post by Wizard of Oz » Sat Jun 15, 2013 3:54 am

.. brilliant Bob !! ..

WoZ in fits
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Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Re: make (both) ends meet

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Sat Jun 15, 2013 8:45 am

These political types are experts on baloney.
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Re: make (both) ends meet

Post by Bobinwales » Sun Jun 16, 2013 12:57 pm

But you need real brains to make a saveloy!
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Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: make (both) ends meet

Post by Wizard of Oz » Mon Jun 17, 2013 9:01 am

.. I still love a good battered sav .. I need to add that the batter for a battered sav is totally different to that used for a Pluto Pup which is served on a stick, a lá American corn dog .. in South Australia they do a great kransky wrapped in strips of puff pastry that has a German/Hungarian influence .. it is not a sausage roll as the pastry is wrapped around in strips and the kransky sticks out each end .. there are also cheese kransky and chilli kransky versions .. oh well back to the diet ..

WoZ salivating
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Signature: "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

End of topic.
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