In this installment of our ongoing series, reporter Tony Maciulis finds out when the end of the day really is.
Word Watch: End of Day
September 1, 2001
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Careful listeners to the previous interview may have heard Jackie Leo invoke the phrase "the end of the day." "The end of the day" has had a solid run in the media lately. That's why we've taken it on at the end of the summer in our regular series called Word Watch. OTM's Tony Maciulis reports. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER: GOD SAVE OUR QUEEN]
TONY MACIULIS: The phrase "at the end of the day" is the Queen's English -- literally! Queen Elizabeth II used it at the opening of a government building in 1982. In fact, it was a cliche as early as 1974, according to Evan Morris, the Web's Word Detective and a nationally syndicated columnist.
EVAN MORRIS: Sort of overwhelmed the media over there and everyone was saying "at the end of the day" meaning sort of what we, what we meant a few years ago when we would say "the bottom line is."
TONY MACIULIS: "Eventually," "in the final analysis," "when all is said and done" -- that's what "at the end of the day" means in the imprecise sense. [BEEP]
ANNOUNCER: Universal Time, 16 hours, 33 minutes, 55 seconds. [BEEP]
TONY MACIULIS: But there's no room for imprecision on Dr. Dennis McCarthy's watch.
DR. DENNIS McCARTHY: My title is the director of the Directorate of Time.
ANNOUNCER: ...5 seconds. [BEEP]
TONY MACIULIS:Dr. McCarthy is the arbiter of time for the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, DC. Congress made the observatory the official timekeeper for the country, and Dr. McCarthy oversees the master clock. In his world, the "end of the day" has a very specific meaning.
DR. DENNIS McCARTHY: It's the time which is actually related to the Mean Solar Time along the meridian of Greenwich, so the day there begins at 0 hours, 0 minutes and 0 seconds Coordinated Universal Time and would end of course with 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds Coordinated Universal Time.
TONY MACIULIS: Coordinated Universal Time is Greenwich Mean Time. So it seems England is responsible for both the literal and figurative meanings of "at the end of the day." But a musical based on Victor Hugo's epic novel spread the cliche to the USA.
EVAN MORRIS: The specific trigger may have been the musical Les Miserables which actually has a song in it At The End of The Day.
CHORUS FROM LES MISERABLES: [SINGING] AT THE END OF THE DAY [...?...] AND THAT'S ALL YOU CAN SAY [...?...] THE BALL
TONY MACIULIS: The Word Detective says that the opening of the hit musical coincides perfectly with the sudden fourfold rise in the usage of "at the end of the day." The song comes early in the first act of one of the longest plays on Broadway. Not longest-running -- literally, the longest. With 3 acts and nearly 3 hours of music, the end of the day isn't close to the end of the play. In New York, I'm Tony Maciulis for On the Media.
CHORUS FROM LES MISERABLES: [SINGING] AT THE END OF THE DAY [...?...]...
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up our back to school special: one teenager's media diet, how the government influenced the media diet of teenagers across the country, and why students are leaving their school papers for the web.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media from National Public Radio.