Eleventh Hour, at the

An idiom with possible Biblical origins.

Meaning

When something occurs ‘at the eleventh hour’ it is occurring at the last possible moment, when there is almost no time left and it is almost too late.


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Usage

This idiom usually refers to an approaching deadline or important event and to someone who has put off a project or responsibility for too long. It is a synonym for procrastination or ‘waiting until the last second.’

Examples Of Use

“Most of the students start their science fair projects at the eleventh hour, and it shows in the results.”

“It’s the eleventh hour and we are still not finished our presentation.”

Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard painting - eleventh hour idiom origin
Rembrandt’s Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard, c. 1637. Probable origin of the idiom ‘the eleventh hour.’

Origin

Most sources indicate that the origin of this idiom is found in the Biblical parable, “The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard,” which appears in Matthew 20:1-16. This parable of Jesus describes a scene where vineyard workers who are hired at the end of the end of the day get paid the same amount as those who worked the entire day, which the workers who worked the full day see as unfair.

Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard

“For the kingdom of heaven is like unto a man that is an householder, which went out early in the morning to hire labourers into his vineyard. And when he had agreed with the labourers for a penny a day, he sent them into his vineyard. And he went out about the third hour, and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, And said unto them; Go ye also into the vineyard, and whatsoever is right I will give you. And they went their way. Again he went out about the sixth and ninth hour, and did likewise. And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle? They say unto him, Because no man hath hired us. He saith unto them, Go ye also into the vineyard; and whatsoever is right, that shall ye receive. So when evening was come, the lord of the vineyard saith unto his steward, Call the labourers, and give them their hire, beginning from the last unto the first. And when they came that were hired about the eleventh hour, they received every man a penny. But when the first came, they supposed that they should have received more; and they likewise received every man a penny. And when they had received it, they murmured against the goodman of the house, Saying, These last have wrought but one hour, and thou hast made them equal unto us, which have borne the burden and heat of the day. But he answered one of them, and said, Friend, I do thee no wrong: didst not thou agree with me for a penny? Take that thine is, and go thy way: I will give unto this last, even as unto thee. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen…”

The “eleventh hour” refers to the hours between 4 and 5 P.M., the last hour of the day. If indeed this is its origin, the modern idiom does not have the same meaning as that of the parable.

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