Universal journalistic clichés?

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Tank McNamara for 8/8/2016:

The Olympic Games are unique in showcasing competition in so many sports by the elite athletes of so many nations. It is an amazing stew of many cultures, yet there are common experiences. For instance it is amazing to hear "at the end of the day …" spoken in so many different languages by pundits from all over the globe.

There are certainly plenty of examples in the English-language news, some literal but most figurative.

And French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, and Dutch are not far behind in terms of the overall frequency of usage of the corresponding expressions. But I have the impression that the balance between literal and figurative usages might not be the same across languages. For example, in the current Google News returns for "at the end of the day", I count 3 literal and 7 figurative usages on the first page, while commenters evaluate all of the first pages of French and Dutch examples as literal.

Assuming that the current balances are really different, I wonder how the metaphorical histories of this phrase have developed over time. Note that the literal/figurative balance for a given phrase is a somewhat different question from the issues taken up in "Memetic dynamics of summative clichés" and "'At the end of the day' not management-speak", 9/26/2009, which asked about changes in the mindshare (or at least textshare) of different ways to express a given concept.

Are there any languages where (the equivalent of) "at the end of the day" is (almost) never used to mean "in summary"? And are there  journalistic phrasal idioms whose metaphorical meaning is transparent, but still don't translate across languages at all?


  1. Zeppelin said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 6:53 am

    I'm suspect that using "am Ende des Tages" figuratively at all is a fairly recent anglicism in German. More "German" expressions would be "letzten Endes", or "letzendlich/schlussendlich".

  2. Zeppelin said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 6:56 am

    …that is to say, expressions which seem more authentically German to me.

  3. empty said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 7:09 am

    I never noticed the cliche "at the end of the day" for the first 30+ years of my life in the USA. Then I went to Scotland in 1987 and seemed to hear it everywhere. Did it spread from the UK around that time?

    [(myl) I'm not sure about the sources, but the date fits the data cited in "Memetic dynamics of summative clichés", 9/26/2009, which includes this figure:


  4. Joke Kalisvaart said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 7:13 am

    All examples on the first page of the google search for the Dutch 'aan het eind van de dag' are literal. I don't think I've ever heard it being used in a figurative sense.

  5. Bart said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 7:20 am

    The echt Dutch figurative expression would be 'per slot van rekening', ie 'when the account is closed'.

  6. Frans said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 7:21 am

    What Joke said. At a quick glance the first few pages of Dutch results are only literal, although it's not impossible that I've missed the idiom being borrowed from English. After all, I was surprised to find some figurative use among the German search results.

  7. Bob Ladd said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 7:52 am

    EXACTLY what empty said.

  8. anglogermantranslations said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 8:07 am

    @Zeppelin Yes indeed! It started off as an Anglicism and now I hear it from almost everyone (which I find quite annoying). http://www.iaas.uni-bremen.de/sprachblog/2010/01/15/am-ende-des-tages/

  9. Zeppelin said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 8:31 am


    Yeah, I try not to peeve, but some anglicisms do rub me the wrong way. I think it's the way everyone goes on about The Decline of Our Language when the change comes from young people or immigrants, but when it's bankers and managers suddenly everyone picks up their weird anglicisms without a second thought.

    I think my least favourite one (because it's so subtle) is that everyone has started saying "in YEAR". When the German expression is either a plain "YEAR" or "im Jahr YEAR".
    I suspect that people now think plain "YEAR" is wrong because it's shorter — my mother and stepdad, both in their early 60s, and even one set of grandparents, almost 90, have started using it in recent years after using the plain construction all their previous lives.

  10. Fushichô said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 8:31 am

    Same for French, the 1st page of results are all literal. If "à la fin de la journée" is used in French, it's always literal; or an anglicism (but a rare one). The figurative "at the end of the day" would be something like "au final", "au bout du compte", "en fin de compte", "tout compte fait".

  11. Gunnar H said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 8:34 am

    I don't believe the corresponding expression exists in Norwegian.

    It would literally be "på slutten/enden av dagen", but it's awkward – in the literal sense you'd be more likely to say "when the day is done" ("når dagen er over/forbi") or use something more specific like "when I get off work", "in the evening", or "at sunset", depending on your precise meaning – and I don't think the metaphorical sense would be at all accessible. There is an entry for it here, but it appears to be a word-for-word translation as a means to look up a more idiomatic expression.

    We do however have the expressions "all in all" ("alt i alt") and "when all is said and done" ("når alt er sagt og gjort"), which could be used in the same contexts. The best translation might be "når alt kommer til alt" (lit. "when all comes to all"), which has a similar range of meaning (from something like "after all" to "in summary" or "ultimately").

    There's also "enden på visa ble …" ("the end of the song was…"), which is used to precede summing up the end result of something (roughly equivalent to "to make a long story short").

  12. Charles said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 8:58 am

    I prefer these non-political posts over the influx of politically-charged posts of recent weeks. Just saying.

  13. Anna said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 10:19 am

    This expression is not used in Iceland, a straight translation just sounds too awkward. Like in Norwegian.

    "Þegar upp er staðið" is roughly equivalent and it's WILDLY overused. But it has a narrower scope or a more specific meaning than "at the end of the day" and is never used in connection with sports.

  14. Coby Lubliner said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 11:15 am

    The Spanish examples are mostly figurative, like the English, but I think this usage is fairly new.

  15. Bernardo said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 12:31 pm

    Portuguese examples seem to be all literal. I never heard it figuratively in Brazilian Portuguese at least.

  16. Florence Artur said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 3:28 pm

    Agree with what Fushichô said about the French. As far as I know there is no such expression in a figurative sense in French. French journalists use a lot of clichés, but I can't say I've ever noticed similarities with English language ones. Not that I read the press a lot in either language.

  17. Michael Rank said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 3:54 pm

    In Britain at least “to be honest” or “to be perfectly honest” is heard at least as much as “at the end of the day” but I think these expressions are much more spoken than written.

  18. TR said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 3:55 pm

    I've never heard it in Hebrew (besof hayom / besofo shel hayom) with the figurative meaning.

  19. PedroS said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 4:27 pm

    Never heard (or read) anyone using it figuratively in European Portuguese either ( I am a native speaker)

  20. Margaret Wilson said,

    August 20, 2016 @ 8:06 pm

    Another data point on the UK/USA difference: I lived in the UK for a year in the early '90's, and when I returned to the States people were puzzled when I used that phrase. It took a lot of explaining for them to even get the metaphor.

  21. cliff arroyo said,

    August 21, 2016 @ 2:28 am

    Native AmEn speaker who first noticed the phrase in the early-mid 90s probably from watching Eurosport where the British announcers used it endlessly (I especially think in the 94 olympics and world cup)

    The meaning was clear but it sounded weird to me then and not much less weird now. I might say it (just from hearing it so much) but I usually prefer "when all is said and done" or "in the final analysis" more.

  22. ebba said,

    August 21, 2016 @ 8:52 pm

    As for Swedish, I don't think I've heard people use literal translations of this expression — "i slutet av dagen"? "vid slutet av dagen"? "vid dagens slut"? That first one sounds slightly unidiomatic/awkward to me even if it were to be used in a literal sense, but it does seem to get a couple of relevant Google hits (where it's used in the sense of "ultimately" or the like), both from random blogs and newspaper/magazine articles. More established idioms for the same concept would be e.g. "i slutändan" or "när allt kommer omkring". By the way, I also associate "at the end of the day" strongly with the UK. I first saw it in the British pop music magazines (Smash Hits etc.) that I liked to read in the late '90s to early '00s, where it was used heavily.

  23. Andreas Johansson said,

    August 22, 2016 @ 6:49 am

    Re Swedish, "i/vid slutet av dagen" sounds like translationese to me. Definitely not common. "Vid dagens slut" is apparently the name of a radio show, so hard to google, but it's probably what I'd use in a literal sense.

  24. Zlatan Ibrahimowizc said,

    August 22, 2016 @ 8:06 am

    @Mark, the rise of "at the end of the day" charted in your graph is pretty similar to what Google ngrams shows for "gone missing" in the American English corpus. I wonder if there are other British phrases that took off around that time. Was there some spike of British English prestige during that period? Possibly a Downton Abbey effect? (Okay, I'm joking:)

  25. Jacek said,

    August 22, 2016 @ 10:18 am

    To translate it literally would not be idiomatic in Polish, but of course there are ways of expressing the same idea, such as w ostatecznym rozrachunku, koniec końców, ostatecznie, w końcu, all involving the end one way or another.

  26. Mark Meckes said,

    August 22, 2016 @ 1:21 pm

    To me, the most notable cliché being satirized here is the press's obsessive interest in the press.

  27. Boursin said,

    August 23, 2016 @ 6:14 am

    Are there any languages where (the equivalent of) "at the end of the day" is (almost) never used to mean "in summary"?

    It's not known in Finnish at all. The literal translation, päivän lopuksi or päivän päätteeksi, would be interpreted literally – 'to cap off the day'.

    The most common Finnish equivalents (or at least what I use as a translator in most contexts) are lopulta 'finally', 'in the end' or loppujen lopuksi 'at the end of (all) the ends'. The latter might itself be an example of those requested "phrasal idioms whose metaphorical meaning is transparent, but [which] still don't translate across languages at all".

  28. Travis said,

    August 24, 2016 @ 5:05 pm

    I'm not a native speaker of Japanese, so there may well be idioms I'm not familiar with, but my sense is that Japanese doesn't generally use any such phrase. I looked up "at the end of the day" in the Eijiro dictionary at alc.co.jp, and it suggested only 最後[最終的]には ("lastly")、and 結局は ("in the end", "ultimately"), though I can think of a number of other similar phrases for summation, such as 要するに。

    Eijiro also suggested

  29. Travis said,

    August 24, 2016 @ 5:11 pm

    I'm not a native speaker of Japanese, so there may well be idioms I'm not familiar with, but my sense is that Japanese doesn't generally use any such phrase. I looked up "at the end of the day" in the Eijiro dictionary at alc.co.jp, and it suggested only 最後[最終的]には ("lastly")、and 結局は ("in the end", "ultimately"), though I can think of a number of other similar phrases for summation, such as 要するに。

    Eijiro also suggested 一日を終える頃に, which roughly literally translates to "around the ending of a/the day," a phrase I have never heard used in any sort of figurative or summative way.

    I imagine the same goes for Chinese, that they would mainly use other phrases, some Chinese equivalent to 最後or 結局. But, then, I also wouldn't be surprised if they did have some more metaphorical or figurative phrase…

  30. BZ said,

    August 25, 2016 @ 11:49 am

    The Russian translation "в конце дня" can only be used literally, although I see some movie and song titles translated that way, including from English where the original meaning was probably at least evoking the metaphorical meaning of the expression.

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