What Does See the Light at the End of the Tunnel Mean?

See the Light at the End of the Tunnel Meaning

Definition: To be near the end of a difficult task.

Origin of See the Light at the End of the Tunnel

The origin of this expression is unclear. Some sources say the idiom is first attested in the early 1900s. Others put it in the 1800s.

Regardless, the idiom should call to mind a dark and dangerous tunnel. When one can see the light at the end of the tunnel, one knows how to get out, and that the end of the ordeal is almost there. The light symbolizes hope.

It is possible that the U.S. President John F. Kennedy helped to popularize this expression when he used it in a speech about the Vietnam War.

Sometimes, people joke that the light at the end of the tunnel is actually the light of an oncoming train. The idea behind this is to make an optimistic expression more negative.

This phrase is also common as a euphemism for the end of one’s life. As one is nearing the completion of his life, he might describe himself as “seeing the light at the end of the tunnel”

Examples of See the Light at the End of the Tunnel

see light at the end of the tunnelIn the conversation below, two friends are discussing a long and arduous project they’ve been working on.

Scott: I can’t believe we ever agreed to help Mike move out of his house.

Tony: I know. I never would have agreed to it if I had known he had so much junk in his house.

Scott: It’s a little out of control. We’ve already filled several dumpsters with all his trash.

Tony: At least we’ve thrown out all the garbage and packed up all his things. Now we just have to move his stuff and help him unpack it. At this point, I feel like I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Scott: That’s true. The hardest part is over with, and now I know never to help anyone move again!

seeing the light at the end of the tunnelTwo coworkers use the expression while talking about their children.

Richard: You have a two-year-old, right? Is it true what they say about the terrible two’s? Is that age especially difficult?

Miranda: From my experience with my other children, I can confidently say the answer is yes. But at least I know my husband and I won’t be having any more children, and my two year old will turn three next month. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel! I can look forward to being done with her screaming fits soon.

More Examples

This quote is from a horoscope.

  • Yesterday was tough and today is also gloomy. It’s important to know two things: Things look worse than they really are. And there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not a train! –Chicago Sun Times

The second example is from an article about casting an actor with four fully functioning limbs in the role of a double amputee.

  • “I don’t know another actor that could have conveyed that the early days are tough but there is a light at the end of the tunnel and things do get better. Jake and I spent so much time together going over how I walked, moved and transferred. He asked questions no one really ever asked me before like what hurt, what obstacles are the toughest — he was so invested and it showed.” –New York Daily News

Summary

The phrase to see the light at the end of the tunnel means to have hope that one will be finished with an arduous task soon.

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