I came across this while reading "Along came a spider" by James Patterson. Chapter 48 begins with the sentence:

The rest of that day, I burned the candle at the other end.

Followed by:

It felt a little irresponsible, but that was good for me. It's all right to put the weight of the world on your shoulders sometimes, if you know how to take it off.

I am familiar with the meaning of the idiom "burning the candle at both ends". The context in question, however, suggests the exact opposite.

Search results have provided me with precious little on "burning the candle at the other end". I've looked into a translation of the novel in Bulgarian, where the phrase is translated into something along the lines of:

I spent the rest of the day relaxing and enjoying myself.

I understand how burning a candle at both ends is related to that particular idiom's meaning, but I'm having trouble grasping the analogy between burning one at the other end and the interpretation of taking it easy (presuming the interpretation is correct). If the rate of energy expenditure is the key factor here, why not just burn the candle the regular way?

Could someone please suggest the origin and exact meaning of "burning a candle at the other end?

  • 6
    @Minty "To burn the candle at both ends" surely originates with the notion of "going to bed late and getting up early", doesn't it?
    – WS2
    Apr 9, 2019 at 11:50
  • 6
    In this context, ...at the other end isn't an "established" variant, so it doesn't have an agreed meaning. The original (at both ends) was based on profligately burning both ends of the candle at once (to get more light), but some people (mistakenly or whimsically) might choose to see it as a reference to the two "ends" of the day (late night and early morning). It's all a matter of opinion, but my guess is OP's cited context is a whimsical allusion to expending energy "relaxing and having fun" the next day, after working late the night before. Apr 9, 2019 at 11:53
  • 1
    Related (duplicate?) What does “burning the candle at both ends” mean? Apr 9, 2019 at 11:55
  • 2
    Sort of, Yavor. If I am burning the candle at both ends then I am putting a lot of energy into work and then going out and putting a lot into playtime too. In a context where I have just put in a hard day's work, going out and having it large can be described as burning the candle at the other end. If I have been out all night and still manage to put in a full day's work, then the full day's work is burning it at the other end. For me the two ends are very clearly established as work/study time and play time. We just need the context to tell us which is the other end.
    – user339660
    Apr 9, 2019 at 12:10
  • 2
    NB there's an idea of overdoing it which comes from the idea that a candle is only really supposed to be lit at one end.
    – user339660
    Apr 9, 2019 at 12:11

4 Answers 4


Searches of the Google Books, Hathi Trust, and Elephind book, periodical, and newspaper databases turn up eighteen unique instances of some form of the phrase "burn the candle at the other end" used in a figurative sense from 1872 to 1930. I reproduce them here in chronological order and with as much context as seems reasonable to include. The years of publication are 1872, 1874, 1892, 1893, 1894, 1895 (two), 1902, 1903, 1904, 1907, 1911, 1916, 1917 (two), 1919, 1922, and 1935. The sources include publications in the United States, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand.

It seems to me that most of the examples embrace one of two distinct understandings of "burn the candle at the other end." One group, including the earliest instance (from May 1872), envisages taking a candle that is already lit at one end and simultaneously lighting it at the other end. This action results in the phenomenon of "burning a candle at both ends." The other group, represented most clearly by the instance from July 1902, envisages burning a candle at one end of the day instead of at the other—that is, before dawn instead of after sunset, or vice versa. The former group is somewhat larger than the latter, but both have significant representation in the examples that follow.

From "The Significance and the Danger of Our Foreign Indebtedness," in The Financier (May 4, 1872):

The foreign bondholder has faith in the resources and the honor of the United States ; but the ease or the difficulty of making the payment is something he doe not concern himself about. We are mortgaging our resources and discounting the future. We shall pay the debt, but the industry of the country may be fearfully taxed, and its development may be greatly retarded, by the process; a more honest system of finance, a more rigid adherence to payment, instead of promise, and a non-interference policy in legislation would avoid most of the straining int he present and the danger of the future. While we buy without selling, settle without paying, destroy our export trade and make American shipping a tradition, Mr. Boutwell does his best to "burn the candle at the other end" by taxing the people to pay bonds not yet due,—besieges Europe to exchange old bonds for new ones not so good, meanwhile keeping on hand a useless balance of public money, at a heavy loss.

From a speech by Colonel Mure on the Factories (Health of Women, &c.) Bill, delivered on June 11, 1874, in Hansard's [British] Parliamentary Debates (1874):

Well, he wanted to know, whether the small employers of labour would by this measure be encouraged to spend money in the improvement of the sanitary conditions of their factories? Would they do this when they found the State nibbling at their capital? And he would ask the House whether, with the knowledge that most men have that this was the small end of the wedge which might be driven home, these employers, seeing the State candle burning at one end, would be justified in spending capital improvements on their factories, thereby burning the candle at the other end?

From an advertisement for Bitting Brothers clothiers, hatters, and furnishers in the Wichita [Kansas] Daily Eagle (May 19, 1892):

At Both Ends. That's where you burn the candle when you pay more than $15 for an Oconee all wool Cassimere Suit. There isn't any law to prevent you from paying more, but if you do it, you do it on the theory that your money is'nt worth as much to you as it is to somebody else. You will have a handsome balance in your pocket to spend for other things if you come to as and pay that price; go elsewhere and you'll be parting with the balance that burns the candle at the other end. All savings don't necessarily go in to a safe; the safest kind of a savings is to buy your clothing for yourself and boys from Bitting Bros[.]

This advertisement includes a drawing of a candle being lit at both ends. A very similar advertisement warning readers not to pay more than $2.50 for "the latest stiff hat" appeared daily for about two weeks in the Salt Lake City [Utah] Herald—from June 5 through June 19, 1892—this time to promote J.P. Gardner hats.

From a letter from Erastus Wiman reprinted in "Work and Worry: Advice from Leading Men and Women on the Subject," in the [Washington, D.C.] Evening Star (November 18, 1893):

Working at night is to me the worst thing that can happen. When darkness comes all nature seems to be at rest and I don't believe it pays to labor after dark. In the morn before dawn darkness may be made available, but after the exhaustion of the day intellectual work is burning the candle at the other end.

From an untitled item in the Wagga Wagga [New South Wales] Express (July 10, 1894):

Under existing circumstances where is the paradise of the working man supposed to be? Can it be in any state of society in which the capitalist will find it not to his interest to build more wool sheds or construct more railway cars, and will not the withdrawal of capital in these directions re-act upon the working population? Working men and others should consider what they are doing when they assist to cut off the stream of capital, and burn the candle at the other end by supporting those who make the profit. Let every candidate openly disavow sympathy with wool-shed incendiarists and railway wreckers.

From Paul Shorey, "Can We Revive the Olympic Games?" in The Forum (May 1895):

At this price [slaving at a desk for eight hours a day] are won the prizes of modern life, and the men whose hearts are set upon them will not consent even in youth to loiter whole days in gymnasiums like Socrates or Critias or Alcibiades. At the most they will hurry around to the athletic club, after a laborious day in a close office, and rush through a half-hour of perfunctory exercise in order to get up an appetite for dinner. Whatever such a man may say about the value of physical training, an instinct warns him that he cannot atone for his excessive consumption of nervous energy by burning the candle at the other end. He knows that he cannot afford to support a biceps.

From "Address of Hon. Roswell G. Horr," in "The Debate on Free Coinage of Silver" (September 6, 1895), in Journal of Social Science: Containing the Proceedings of the American Association (November 1895):

I don't want to get a dollar that I cannot buy as much with as I do now. There are twenty-three millions of people in the United States who belong to what the census people call the "gainful workers" of the country. Of that number seventeen millions depend upon the wages they get each week upon which to live. Does anybody here think that we would confer a blessing upon those seventeen millions by giving them cheaper dollars every week, and not only that, but burn the candle at the other end, and make them pay more for what they use? I want no blessing of that kind in mine. I get no more than I like now.

From Vallon Hardie, "An Early Morning Fishing" in The Badminton Magazine of Sports and Pastimes (July 1902):

My companion, too, is busy, in the best possible sense. I can see by the gratified beam on his face as he contentedly puffs his wreaths and rings of smoke that he is enjoying to the full this his first early morning outing, and that it will not be the last time he will sacrifice an hour or two of overnight billiards for the sake of such another. How much better than burning the candle at the other end of the day, or than lying abed in a room ever so airy! Time enough for that in the long winter nights to come.

From remarks by Mr Buchanan on the Imprest Supply Bill No. 3 (August 28, 1903), in [New Zealand] Parliamentary Debates (1903):

There is no doubt about these figures [on interest payments by the Government], and the Premier has not been able to contradict them in any way whatever. But that is not the worst feature of the position. We are burning the candle at the other end also by means of a wasteful expenditure of our loan-money on our railways and upon our roads.

From Phyllis Bottome, The Master Hope (1904):

"Now, Wilfred," she began, sitting down and drawing on her gloves, "I should like to speak to you seriously about your niece. I have no objection to giving her a home, but there must be no misunderstanding her position here. Your brother John died leaving next to nothing. Yes! I know what you are going to say, my dear—he gave his money to the poor! Very true, and if you will allow me to say so, culpably silly. Had his own daughter no more claim on him than gutter children, and are people in the gutter any more important than people out of it? What," said Mrs. Fordington, "is there in the gutter to make people lose their heads over it? John lost his, he spent his own money and Mary's, then after her death, not even his marriage with an exceedingly worldly woman made any difference to his gutter money! She burned the candle at the other end. I don't believe in extremes. I have often said, 'Be moderate and you'll be safe! Start a crank and everything goes to swell it.' Where would Daphne be now if it wasn't for you?"

From "The High Finance of Hector Caruthers," in the [Albury, New South Wales] Border Morning Mail And Riverina Times (October 11, 1907):

However, so far from saving us, that £6,000,000, the Carruthers' Government began to burn the candle at the other end and finally in the middle as well. The total expenditure of New South Wales jumped from about £10,000,000 to very nearly £12,000,000 per annum—the receipts of course jumping at the same time.

From Edward Peters, The Practice of Copper Smelting (1911):

The important point for the commercial smelter to note, however, is that this same high silicate-degree is not maintained in the class of slags now under consideration and that, in spite of the natural disinclination of the metallurgist to use any undue amount of barren limestone, and in spite of the unfortunate circumstance that his fusible base (FeO) has a decidedly lower replacement-value than lime, so that the more he replaces lime with iron, the less silica can he flux, he still finds it advantageous to burn the candle at the other end as well, and actually to lower the silicate-degree of his slag — thus losing ground in both directions.

From "Bank Competition and the Custom of Paying Interest on Deposits," in The Commercial and Financial Chronicle (February 26, 1916):

Now, while competition for deposit totals was increasing in severity, other developments were in progress which were in effect burning the candle at the other end. The public became educated to the idea that banks were in the nature of public institutions, if not indeed altruistic institutions; an that bankers were in business for their health, inasmuch as they reported at 10 a. m. and knocked off at 2 p. m. for the golf links. Fostering this idea, the public demanded more and more free service, in this respect assuming an attitude toward banks that it has assumed toward railroads.

From "Notes by 'Ranger'," in The Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News (January 27, 1917):

How are you going to prevent the man you licence to select, and shoot, from viewing the deer just as hunger may prompt? It cannot be done, except in rare instances, and in any case this advice comes at the wrong end of the winter, and when stags as farmers' pests have already become so; and, as the licence for this killing has already been given by the Scottish authorities, this new proposal would be burning the candle at the other end also. I was moved to object to the farmers shooting the deer because I know that they will not make venison, but carrion instead. The authorities invited opinions of the best Way of treating the deer, and then acted before getting the advice they asked for.

From "Daylight Saving," in The Independent (February 19, 1917):

In the first place, most people are so used to following the clock blindly that they will not discover that they are being tricked into becoming healthy and wealthy and wise until the five months are up. In the second place the summer does give an opportunity for an ante-meridian shift without burning the candle at the other end. Of course anybody who wants to take advantage of this can do it now without waiting for legislation by simply getting up earlier and those who do may not lie abed. The proposed change would merely throw the extra hour after the day's work instead of before it.

From H.T. Sheringham, "Notes from the Fishing Hut," in The Badminton Magazine of Sports and Pastimes (August 1919):

DEWEY EVE.—But, to make up for this [unwillingness to get up early in order to start fishing at 6 a.m.], I once or twice burnt the candle at the other end, going out after dinner and fishing on into the darkness. You can catch trout in this way, and good ones too, but somehow I never made much of the business. The trout would come and pluck at the two biggish sedges which I dragged across the stream, sometimes making quite impressive plunges which resounded through the night. But whether I struck too soon, or too late, or too lightly, or too hard, I know not. Certainly I amassed no great baskets and would go home rather ashamed of myself with one fish, or perhaps a brace, to show for my pains.

From "Our Borrowing Disease," in the Braidwood [New South Wales] Dispatch And Mining Journal (July 14, 1922):

The point is can we afford to keep on borrowing money at this rate and burn the candle at the other end by piling up taxation in the astounding manner in which we have been doing? On the contrary, is it not time that we cried a halt and confined our borrowing to those undertakings which can show a direct return upon the money borrowed?

From a letter dated August 16, 1935, reprinted in Affection: Ninety Years of Family Letters, 1850s–1930s (2006–7):

Anne & Bobbie and Nancy have been having a good time at Madison this week, I think. Nancy is getting our children in bad habits, though. She wakes up at 6:30 A.M. and meows and in about two minutes Peter is pounding down the hall ion his bare feet "to see Nancy get dressed" or "to see Nancy have her breakfast." Anne is usually all dressed and down over the laundry tubs at 7:30, which is quite contrary to our household schedule. We seem to like better to burn the candle at the other end; it makes one feel too good and virtuous to be up so early.


The phrase "burn the candle at the other end" appears often enough in works published between 1870 and 1935—and especially in the three decades from 1892 to 1922—to suggest that it was a recognized idiom during that period, at least among some English-speaking populations. The complication is that it seems to have been understood in two distinct figurative ways—as lighting an already-lit candle at its previously unlit end while continuing to burn it at its already-lit end, and as lighting a candle at the opposite end of the day from the end when one would normally light it.

The latter sense of the expression seems to have been applied at least occasionally to situations in which someone replaced one form of activity with its opposite. Thus, for example, in the example from the 1904 novel by Phyllis Bottome, Mrs. Fordington uses the expression to describe how John's second wife burned through his money in a way diametrically opposed to how he had gone through it before: he had spent it (in Mrs. Fordington's opinion, profligately) on the poor, whereas his "exceedingly worldly" second wife seems to have spent large amounts of it on herself. A similar kind of opposite behavior seems to be at play in the OP's example, in which a character who evidently had been working quite hard reports that he suddenly stopped working and took the rest of the day off.



As a figure of speech, “burn the candle at both ends” means “to work very hard and stay up very late at night,” as defined by McGraw-Hill’s “American Idioms Dictionary.” By way of further explanation, it says the phrase implies that “one end of the candle is work done in the daylight, and the other end is work done at night.”

THAILAND Aspects of Landscape and Life by Robert L. Pendleton - 1962

Pendleton’s life was characterized by an outpouring of energy. His many publications have already been mentioned. One item in his bibliography is headed: “Reviews of thirteen books.” He was a voluminous letter writer. Ten or twenty letters a day to all parts of the world were not unusual. An early riser, he was often at work before some of the graduate students who burned the candle at the other end had gone to bed.


OP's quote comes from the beginning of Chapter 48. At the end of Chap. 47, the man spent an unexpected loving night in the arms of Jezzie. "Early the next morning" she dropped him off at his place.

OP quote: "The rest of that day, I burned the candle at the other end," refers to having spent the 'first half of the candle' (the night hours) awake with Jezzie; now, he's going straight into the affairs of the day, burning the candle of the daylight hours.

  • This is a good explanation of the common phrase 'burn at both ends' but doesn't really address the wording 'burn at the other end'. Can you find any discussion for that particular phrase?
    – Mitch
    Jun 2, 2020 at 20:06
  • 1
    The OP specifically says "I am familiar with the meaning of the idiom "burning the candle at both ends"."
    – Greybeard
    Jun 3, 2020 at 10:49
  • I removed some extraneous stuff so that perhaps the answer will be clearer?
    – tblue
    Jun 3, 2020 at 12:42

Well, it seems possible that context may gild the flavor, but taking in these quotes I get a fairly distinct whiff.

Let's see, there is someone

  • burning the candle at the other end, who further
  • feels good after, irresponsibly, taking off some pressure, and who
  • spends quite some time relaxing and enjoying himself

Could the great art of self-gratification help us see clearer here?


How to be a genius... for dummies!

You have all put way too much thought into this shit. Fr! This saying simply means that it's gonna burn twice as fast! You are spent because you had to kick It into gear and work double time. I would use it in conjunction with "

  • 1
    As it’s currently written, your answer is unclear. Please edit to add additional details that will help others understand how this addresses the question asked. You can find more information on how to write good answers in the help center.
    – Community Bot
    Sep 2, 2022 at 5:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.