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Very Busy People 'Burn the Candle at Both Ends'

FILE - A woman holds a candle during a commemoration ceremony in Kiev on November 22, 2014. (REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)
FILE - A woman holds a candle during a commemoration ceremony in Kiev on November 22, 2014. (REUTERS/Gleb Garanich)
Very Busy People 'Burn the Candle at Both Ends'
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And now, Words and Their Stories, from VOA Learning English.

On this program we explore words and expressions in the English language a little more closely.

Often, our expressions come from everyday objects.

Today we talk about a candle. Sometimes we use candles to create a feeling of calm or some other sort of feeling. We call that an ambiance. For example, dinner by candlelight is a lot more romantic than dinner under fluorescent lights.

Often candles smell nice, too. We can buy our favorite scents, or kinds of smells. This makes them even more calming.

But candles are useful as well. If the electricity goes out, candles can light a dark night. In the days before electricity, candles were a main source of light for work.

And that brings us to today’s expression — "to burn the candle at both ends."

This expression is used several ways.

Usually, it means that we are busy with work but not always. Let’s say I spent all of last year working on two very important goals at the same time. Friends could say that I burned my candle at both ends for a whole year. Finally, I got burned out, which means I was really tired.

If we use up all of our energy by leading a busy life with work, friends, and seemingly endless activities, we can say we are burning the candle at both ends. We are busy from early morning until late at night.

Here is another example. Ever since starting a new job and getting her master’s degree, my friend Annette has been burning the candle at both ends. She has been doing a lot.

The expression also appears in creative forms of writing.

In her poem, “Figs from Thistles: First Fig,” poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote about it this way:

My candle burns at both ends; it will not last the night; but ah, my foes, and oh, my friends -- it gives a lovely light!

Now, let’s hear how these two friends use the expression in this short exchange.

Where have you been? I haven’t talked to you weeks!

I know. Sorry about that. I got a book deal last month. So, I’ve been kind of busy with that.

Congratulations. But I thought you were still in school?

I am. That’s why I’ve been burning the candle at both ends for the past…what month is it?

It’s February. Wow! You have been busy.

At VOA Learning English, we work really hard to bring you informative programs. Sometimes we even burn the candle at both the ends to get the job done. Thankfully, though…not every week!

And that's the end of this Words and Their Stories.

Until next time…I’m Anna Matteo!

Anna Matteo wrote this for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.


Words in This Story

romantic –adj. related to or involving a feeling of love

fluorescent lights –n. lights that get bright when electricity passes through a tube filled with gas

source –n. the cause of something

master’s degree –n. a degree that is given to a student by a college or university usually after one or two years of additional study following a bachelor’s degree