Make Ends Meet

In current political discussions, this phrase refers to people’s efforts to pay all their bills with inadequate funds. World Wide Words says the exact origin is unknown.

The oldest example I can find is from Thomas Fuller’s The History of the Worthies of England of about 1661: “Worldly wealth he cared not for, desiring only to make both ends meet; and as for that little that lapped over he gave it to pious uses”, but the fact that Fuller is making a little joke using it suggests he already knew of it as a set phrase.

One suggested origin refers to columns of bookkeeping numbers where credits and debits must match, or where end-of-year numbers must balance. Another suggestion is the phrase refers to having enough fabric to complete a dress.

English Language and Usage adds the possibility that the phrase comes from ropes on a sailing ship or wearing a belt that is too short, but without any references it’s speculation.

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About Ponderer

Ponderer also writes science fiction and science-inspired rhyming poetry. Check her out at She worked at Rocky Flats for 22 years - you may know her as Kathy London.

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