In the latest installment of our ongoing series, reporter Tony Maciulis finds out when the end of the day really is.
Word Watch: End of the Day
January 6, 2001
BOB GARFIELD: Welcome back to NPR's On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield. At the end of the year, we've been hearing a lot about the "end of the day." Reporter Tony Masillus has the latest in our series on Words to Watch. [MILITARY BAND PLAYING GOD SAVE OUR KING UP AND UNDER]
TONY MASILLUS: 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 MASILLUS: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.
RECORDED ANNOUNCER: [BEEP] Universal time 16 hours, 33 minutes, 55 seconds. [BEEP] U.S. Naval Observatory...
TONY MASILLUS: 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.
RECORDED MAN: ...hours, 34 minutes, 5 seconds. [BEEP] Universal time...
TONY MASILLUS: Dr. McCarthy is the arbiter of time for the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C. 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 zero hours, zero minutes and zero seconds coordinated universal time and would end, of course, with 23 hours, 59 minutes and 59 seconds coordinated universal time.
TONY MASILLUS: 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 called At the End of the Day. [LES MIZ CAST SINGING AT THE END OF THE DAY - UP AND UNDER]
TONY MASILLUS: The Word Detective says that the opening of the hit musical coincides perfectly with a 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 Masillus for On the Media.