To (until, till) The Bitter End

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Meaning of Idiom 'To the Bitter End'

To the bitter end means to the very end, however unpleasant or ruinous; all the way to death or ruin. 2,1

Examples of Use

"The movie was long and boring, but we stayed until the bitter end so as not to disturb the other people."

"I'll stay with her to the bitter end," said Howards. "I just hope the bitter end is sooner than later."

"The last few soldiers kept fighting until the bitter end."


The most popular explanation for this idiom's origin is a nautical one (be cautious of supposed nautical origins, they are a dime a dozen). According to this theory, a bitter referred to a turn of a ship's line, such as an anchor chain, around a post or bitt. The part of the cable that was always inboard ship was called the bitter end. Thus, when a line was let out to the end, it was let out 'to the bitter end' and there was no more to pay out. 1,((bicite blooms))

It is also possible this idiom has a biblical origin, as from Proverbs 5:1-5:

My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow thine ear to my understanding:
That thou mayest regard discretion, and that thy lips may keep knowledge.
For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil:
But her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.
Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.

The wormwood referred to here is Artemisia herba-alba or white wormwood, which is mentioned several times in the Bible (seven times in the Hebrew Bible), always in reference to its bitterness. In the New Testament, in the Book of Revelation, it is mentioned as the name of a star that falls from the sky into some of the rivers and waters, turning them bitter and causing death to those who drank the water.

1. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
2. Jarvie, Gordon. Bloomsbury Dictionary of Idioms. London: Bloomsbury, 2009.

More Bitter Idioms

More Bitter Idioms

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