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Burn the candle at both ends

刊登日期: 2018.06.22
作者: Grace Tse  

In Hong Kong, primary schools usually hold their final exams in mid-June. How do you prepare for the exam? During the revision weeks, most of you might get up early and stay up late. To get good results, it is common for students to burn the candle at both ends during this time. 

In current usage, the idiom “burn the candle at both ends” means that a person works or does too many things from early morning until late at night and gets very tired. It original meaning was entirely different when it was first used in the 18th century. 

An important English dictionary, “Dictionarium Britannicum”(1736), defined this saying as a couple wasting a lot of money by leading a spendthrift life. 

“The Candle burns at both Ends. Said when Husband and Wife are both Spendthrifts.” 

If you place a candle horizontally and burn it at both ends, the candle will burn out quickly. Candles were used for household lighting for many hundreds of years until gas lamps were invented in the 19th century. While wealthy families could afford to keep their houses brightly lit, candles were still expensive to poor people. 

Scholars believed that the English expression was translated from a French phrase, “Brûler la chandelle par les deux bouts”, in 1611. 

Nowadays, this idiom is also used to describe over-exhaustion as a result of too much play. 

He was in a party all night. He was definitely burning the candle at both ends(一根燭兩頭燒;過度疲勞). 

Wishing all of you a lovely summer holiday! 

Glossary 

Revision 

複習

Stay up 

熬夜

Couple 

夫婦

Spendthrift 

揮霍

 

Horizontally 

橫向

Household 

lighting 

家居照明

Afford 

負擔得起

Over-

exhaustion 

過度疲累

 

 

 

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