The phrase "on end" means "without end". It very much sounds like the German "ohn End" which itself is the short form of "ohne Ende".

Is this etymologically the right direction? (Sometimes these similarities are misleading!)

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    You need to add some context here: as far as I know, "on end" never means "without end". May 29, 2011 at 11:33
  • @Tim: see e.g. here: idioms.thefreedictionary.com/days+on+end
    – vonjd
    May 29, 2011 at 12:30
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    @vonjd: Nope, 'days on end' means days following each other without a break, like books on end on a bookshelf. Similarly with all other idioms I know: can you expand? May 29, 2011 at 13:59
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    @TimLymington: Indeed, that seems to be definitely what it meant originally, and often still does. From 1831: "I slept two nights and two days on end, till every one thought I would die." Nowadays, I think some people use "days on end" to just mean "many days". May 29, 2011 at 14:52
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    And here is a quote from 1811, where on end is used in the same sense for something other than days: "they spliced all their four cables on end, and rode at anchor for the space of forty hours". I don't think on end would be used this way nowadays. May 29, 2011 at 15:13

1 Answer 1


Since nobody has answered this yet, here's my formalization of the comments. "On end" means "without a break", which has been slightly altered over time so that "days on end" now often means "several days". It is easy to misunderstand this as "days without end", and to wonder about the origin of the phrase. But if you do this, you are committing a solecism of which we are all guilty from time to time; assuming that something you do not know must be related to something you do know. (Is there a name for this, all you linguists?)

So technically the answer is that your questions is based on a false premise, and cannot be answered.

  • +1: looking at the quote I found through Google about splicing cables "on end" to make a long anchor, the original meaning seems to have been "end to end", which when applied to time periods, indeed would mean "without a break". Jun 3, 2011 at 0:14
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    "you are committing a solecism of which we are all guilty from time to time" Nice! Aug 10, 2012 at 14:52

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