Are you fed up? If you say “Yes”, it is unlikely that you are saying that you are well fed. This was the origin of the phrase in the eighteenth century, applying to rich people, satiated with food. The English Language is full of phrases, that foreign language students find hard to understand. There are twenty-five thousand idioms in the English Language. Students will usually be taught those, that are most in common usage and will come across others, as and when, they arise in conversation.
Today of course, being “fed up” expresses a feeling of discontentment. You may say that you are “fed up to the back teeth” or that “you have had it up to here”. You may be “sick and tired” and “have had just about enough”. All of these idioms could refer literally to the digestion of food!
If you labour the point, people may say that you are “milking it”, meaning that you are making too much fuss of whatever is upsetting you. You may have become a “wet blanket” (literally means a blanket used to stifle flames, in nineteenth century kitchens), curbing the enthusiasm of others. In which case, try not to be so “cheesed off” Enough said!
In the nineteen sixties I worked in London stores. Worked as an Insurance Clerk in the City of London during the nineteen seventies. Divorced in the nineteen nineties. Now I am a retired Civil Servant, managing home and garden and escaping onto social media whenever possible.
How was your day? This has become my standard greeting, when opening an evening chat with a friend. Back comes the reply “the usual” This means that the day has been like the day before and probably the day before that. Is that a bad thing? I suppose it depends on what “the usual” means for you. It could be a cause to celebrate. Another day has passed, with nothing to disturb the daily routine, and this brings with it some contentment.
If your usual day is grim, for whatever reason, the reply ” the usual ” will come with undertones of resignation, meaning that you have faced and survived another day. People for whom “the usual” means “pretty good” may have no conception of your usual, which to them would seem unbearable.
No doubt there are a myriad of self-help books, with advice on “being positive” and on not “catastrophising” and it is true that if these books inspire fortitude , they can be of help. Especially during the pandemic, there are people, who find themselves in desperate situations, cut off from family and friends. Nevertheless, it is essential that they do seek help and if asked “How was your day?” they do not reply “the usual”.
Originally the phrase meant exactly what it said. Before houses had gaslighting installed in the early nineteenth century, the only forms of lighting were candles and paraffin lamps. A candle could be placed horizontally with both ends lit for maximum effect. The expression “not worth a candle” came to be used to describe something that was worthless. Candles that were in constant use had a monetary value, being in fact an early fuel bill!
One of the improvements Prince Albert made to Buckingham Palace, was to improve the quality of the candles used. He replaced the tallow candles, which smoked and had an unpleasant odour, and impacted on the enjoyment of Royal Balls. George V1 employed thirty staff to keep the candles lit in the Royal Chandeliers, until the candles were replaced with electric bulbs.
Another expression used to describe someone deemed superior in looks or in talent, is a statement that it is not possible to “hold a candle” to that person. There is no light, either actual or metaphorical, in which the person could otherwise be viewed, other than as superior to the other.
In modern times the expression usually describes someone who gets very little rest, being active very late at night and rising early in the morning. The reasons for this may vary. Some may be enjoying an excessively active social life and be out at some amusement, from dusk until dawn. The pandemic has largely put a stop to this and it is more likely that people up half the night are on social media, or checking their mobile phones. Even before the pandemic, excessive use of the internet had been identified as a cause of sleep loss.
Students may be studying hard for examinations “burning the midnight oil” and others may be working in jobs or professions that demand long hours. Carers of sick partners or children may get very little sleep, being up half the night and early in the morning, to attend to the person’s
needs. So, the expression does not always describe a life of pleasure, as the candle can be burnt at both ends in a life of service.
People talk about getting their “beauty sleep” to avoid long hours awake showing in their faces, with drawn features and dark shadows under the eyes. Anything less than a minimum of four hours sound sleep may result in damaged health, as the body needs to rest to repair itself.
It is best, where possible, to metaphorically snuff out the candle at a reasonable hour, to avoid “burn out” ourselves.
“Am I my brother’s keeper?” I ask myself. Could I have prevented him from marrying Jezebel? “Eat, Drink and Be Merry” they said at the wedding reception, but I could already see the “writing on the wall” for the marriage. My brother says that she is “the apple of my eye”. However, after only a few weeks of wedded bliss, she is already on the lookout for “forbidden fruit”.
My brother is “the salt of the earth” and I will always go “the extra mile” for him. How is he going to keep Jezebel “on the straight and narrow”?
My brother is now at his “wits end”, well on the way to a “broken heart”. I tell him to “be a man” and to “get to the root of the matter”
“Can a leopard ever change her spots?” Whatever promises she makes to change her ways, they are just a “drop in a bucket” My brother is “turning to skin and bone”, with the stress of living with an unfaithful wife. I tell him “Do not cast your pearls before swine” He has worked hard for his living and everything he has achieved comes from “the sweat of his brow”. We shall never see “eye to eye” on this. He would go to the “ends of the earth ” for Jezebel, whatever she does. I can only hope that he will come to his senses “at the eleventh hour”
Note: There is no evidence that the biblical Jezebel was a prostitute or even a loose woman. She was killed for her political activities and later vilified and her reputation trashed in these terms.