What is the etymology of the phrase "end up", and of the meaning of "wind up" that means essentially the same thing?

To clarify, I mean the specific meaning of "wind up" that means the same as "end up"

Like, you would say "[something] ends up [somewhere]" , and in at least some dialects you could say "[something] winds up [somewhere]" with the same meaning, and same with "[someone] ends up [doing something]".

In Merriam-Webster, this sense is (intransitive verb) 1.b: "to arrive in a place, situation, or condition at the end or as a result of a course of action " - and while "end up" has no dictionary entry, I've always thought of it as the "less unusual" way of saying the same thing.

  • "Turns out" is another synonym, leaning more toward resulting in the unexpected.
    – user32053
    Commented Dec 11, 2012 at 4:39

3 Answers 3


Etymonline has these notes on "wind":

Wind down "come to a conclusion" is recorded from 1952; wind up "come to a conclusion" is from 1825.

The meaning is "to move by twisting and turning" and the relevant root is windan; the word is also related to wend and wander.

End, on the other hand, does have a different root listed:

O.E. ende "end, conclusion, boundary, district, species, class"

"End up" is not listed there. Searching for historical uses is mostly futile considering sentences such as "this end up" and "place the large end up". I am not sure there is any real link between the two. The relevant dictionary definition for "up" gives us a bit of a tip:

up - to the place where someone is

The accompanying example is "creeping up" and within this framework you can see the use of "up" with many verbs that describe movement:

  • creep up
  • move up
  • wind up
  • end up
  • jump up — slightly different
  • drive up
  • bike up
  • go up
  • walk up

And so on. Therefore, I suggest that the connection between "wind up" and "end up" has more to do with up than the other two words — even though they sound similar. Both wind and end have their histories and happen to work well with up.


Up is often used as a modifier to indicate the successful execution of an action: start up, finish up, clean up, settle up. Typically, it connotes a sense of finality or completeness: you can clean the house as a process, but if you clean up the house, the implication is that you will clean until there is no more cleaning to be done (admittedly it usually doesn't work that way at my house).

Since end already indicates completion or finality, end up is redundant, and was probably coined as a mildly intensified synonym for "end," along the lines of the other examples given above. It seems to be a relatively recent innovation; examples of "end up" from the 19th century and earlier all seem to literally involve an end (of something) being elevated: "Four years ago I had a lot of pipe come which I judged must have been cast with the bell end up..."

Wind up, in the sense of "bring to a conclusion," is different. Merriam-Webster dates the first known use to 1583. I would guess that it was initially used metaphorically, recalling the way one winds up a length of rope after using it for a task.

  • -1; I don't think "clean up" carries those implications at all and "end up" isn't redundant. It is a different phrase than "end" or "up" and carries its own connotations.
    – MrHen
    Commented May 16, 2011 at 18:08

The semantic shift from 'wind up' to 'end up' appears obvious from the OED's vertical juxtaposition of the meanings of 'wind up':

to wind up

1. transitive. To draw up or hoist with a winch or the like: cf. 19.


a. †To bind or wrap up (obsolete); see also 16 (quot. 1853 at sense 16a).


a. To coil, roll, or fold up; to furl: cf. sense 15b. Obsolete except as in sense 16b(b).

b. To coil (thread, etc.) into a compact mass (cf. 15): chiefly in †to wind up a bottom or one's bottoms (bottom n. 24), usually figurative to sum up, conclude (cf. sense 7d).

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