AE 456 – Expression: Burn the Candle at Both Ends

Learn Australian English in this expression episode of the Aussie English Podcast where you’ll learn how to use the expression to BURN THE CANDLE AT BOTH ENDS like a native speaker.

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AE 456 – Expression: Burn the Candle at Both Ends

G’day you mob! How are you going? What is going on? I hope you’ve been having a great week.

I am down in Geelong this week hanging out with a mate. So, I’ve come down to visit here. I’m staying at his house while his folks, his parents, have gone over to Greece for six weeks. So, James’s folks have a pet cat, and James also has a pet cat, and his folks also have plants that need to be watered, and so, he’s decided to move in here to his folks’ house where he used to live a long time ago and take care of his cats. But one of them’s really funny. One of them is terrified of other humans. So, I don’t know why. It’s just always been that way, but it pretty much only likes James’s dad and maybe James a little bit, but everyone else it runs away from or isn’t seen at all. So, I’ve only seen that once or twice (in) the last few days. But his other cat, his cat, the one from his house, which is also here, is absolutely lovely. I love Thomas. He’s a funny can’t. You may’ve seen him in some of the recent vlogs that I’ve put up on YouTube.

Anyway guys, so today, it’s another expression episode. We will go through some announcements, a joke, we’ll go through the expression, what it means, the different words in it, where it came from, some examples, the listen and repeat exercise, and then an interesting Aussie fact, which will be about whaling in Australia today.

Anyway, guys, let’s get into it.

So, this is the Aussie English Podcast, guys. If this is the first time that you are listening, welcome! It’s great to have you here. This podcast is for intermediate to advanced learners of the English language. There’s no handholding here, guys. I speak to you as a native speaker, naturally. I don’t change how I would talk. I try and treat you guys as I would anyone else who was having a conversation with. So, that is the whole point. These resources here are for you and they are to try and help you get from intermediate to advanced in English, in general, but also obviously to help you learn Australian English, whether that’s the slang, the culture, the history, all of that sort of stuff related to Australia and Australian English. The Aussie English Podcast is the podcast for you, guys. So, thanks for joining me.

The Aussie English Podcast is brought to you by the Aussie English Classroom and this is the online learning platform where you will get all the course material for this episode and a lot of the previous episodes. So, if you want to learn English and you want to learn it fast, and you like studying and doing listening comprehension quizzes, learning new vocab, learning new expressions, watching videos, all of that sort of stuff, go to and enroll. The first month is just one dollar, guys, and that’s how I keep the lights on. So, please check it out and give it a go if you want to upgrade your English.

Anyway, (that was a) bit of an intro, but let’s get into the Aussie English joke for the day, guys. The joke is: how do you make a candle burn longer? How do you make a candle burn longer? You can’t. They only burn shorter. (Do) you get it? You can’t. They only burn short.

So, how do you make a candle burn longer? The joke here being that longer can mean longer as in a duration of time, but it can also mean a physical length of something. So, a candle, when you light a candle and the candle is burning, it reduces in size. So, it’s a long thin thing that has a flame at the top of it and as it burns it reduces in size. So, it gets shorter.

But the joke here is that we want to know how we can make a candle burn for longer, like a longer amount of time, and the joke here is that they only get smaller in size.

Anyway, (I) hope you like that joke, guys. I know they’re always dad jokes, but these are clever puns that will help you understand more about Australian English and English in general. Okay?

So, today’s expression: ‘to burn the candle at both ends’. ‘To burn the candle at both ends’. This one comes from Dan who is in the Aussie English Classroom. Every week we get in the private Facebook group and we vote on these expressions. Dan put this one forth this week and everyone decided this was the best one. So, good job Dan. So, let’s go through and define the words in the expression ‘to burn the candle at both ends’.

So, ‘to burn’, ‘to burn’ is obviously a verb, ‘to burn’, ‘to burn’, and it means to be or cause to be destroyed by fire. So, if you put a piece of wood in the fire place and the fire’s obviously alight, the wood burns.

‘A candle’. ‘A candle’ is a long, usually, usually a cylinder or block of wax or tallow or, back in the day, it could be a whale oil, we’ll get to that in a bit, and it has a central wick. That is the piece of string with in the candle. It’s called a wick. And this is what is lit and produces light as it burns. So, a candle, when you light the wick in the candle, the substance the candle is made out of melts a little bit and is used as fuel. It gets soaked up the wick and it burns. So, if the lights in the house go out because of a blackout, you know, the power pole has come down in a car accident, you’ve got no electricity, you might use candles so that you can see if it’s night time.

Alright, the last word here ‘the end’ of something. So, ‘the end’ of something. This can mean a few things. It can obviously mean the final part of something like a movie, the end of a movie is the last few minutes of a movie. But in this sense, it’s more the furthest or most extreme part of something. So, for instance, the end of a bed. You might sit on the end of a bed. You might open a packet of food with the end of a knife, the tip of a knife. That is the end of something. The first or most extreme part of it.

So, let’s go through and define the expression, guys. If you burn the candle at both ends, I wonder if you guys have heard this one before, it means to overwork yourself, to exhaust yourself by doing too much, by doing too many things, especially, when you’re doing these both late at night and early in the morning. So, you’re living a hectic life. There’s a lot going on. It’s not sustainable. You’re overworking. You’re exhausting yourself.

And so, the modern idea of this expression, and we’ll get in to the original meaning, but the modern meaning, is that you’re using up the evening, you’re burning one end of the candle, the evening, and you’re getting up early in the morning, and using up the morning, and you’re burning the other end of the candle. So, if you imagine in your head that, in this case, the candle, which has a wick, which goes through the entire thing. You can light either end of a candle. If you imagine that candle is the night time where you would otherwise sleep, if you’re burning both ends of the candle, you’re working hard into the night and you’re getting up early in the morning to work. So, you’re reducing the length of your sleep, or of the evening, of the night. Okay? So, that’s burning the candle at both ends.

But the expression origin, guys, it didn’t have that idea when it was first coined. So, it was first coined in the 18th century, I think, the first use in English was in around 1730. However, it was used in French as far back as 1611: “Brusler la chandelle par les deux bouts.”, which means “to burn the candle by the two ends”. So, both ends, though, in this case were a physical reference to the ends of the candle and not the ends of the day. Okay?

So, back in the day candles were a useful and very valuable thing, and the notion of wasting a candle or suggested by lighting it at both ends was incredibly reckless. It was a bad idea. And so, this idea was that the only way for candles to be lit by both ends was to hold it horizontally, the wax, if it was lit, horizontally, would drip away from the candle and not burn, and you would waste the candle. It would be very unproductive. So, that was burning the candle at both ends. Okay?

So, let’s go through some examples, guys, of how I would use this in everyday English.

Alright, so example number one. I remember when I was at university. I was doing my bachelor’s degree in science and there were many kids there studying other things like commerce, and arts, law, medicine, all those kinds of subjects. But a lot of these kids, despite studying a lot and having to be there five days a week, you know, for eight hours, they were involved in sports. So, they had signed up for a sports team. They were playing footy, or hockey, or maybe doing athletics, or swimming, which required them to train several times a week. So, they’d have to get ready for games on the weekends or competitions on the weekends and they’d have to train with the team. So, students were often in a situation where they were studying late at night for exams, but then getting up early in the morning to train. And so, if this is the case, which it was, they were burning the candle at both ends. Their life was very hectic. They were very busy. They were overworking. They were exhausting themselves. They were working late into the night, and then waking up early in the morning. They were burning the candle at both ends.

Example number two. So, in this case, imagine that you have graduated from university after working your arse off, being on a team and burning the candle at both ends in that time, in that period. Imagine now you’re at university. You’re working as a lawyer for a law firm, and you’ve carried across, you’ve maintained that work ethic. So, now you’re trying to impress your new boss by getting to work really early in the morning, working all throughout the day, and then staying late into the night to get as much done as possible. You’re hoping that this will lead to potentially a promotion or something like that. If you’re doing this continuously, obviously, it’s unsustainable, and it’s incredibly hectic, it’s a the high-paced life, you’re burning the candle at both ends. You’re overworking yourself. You’re living a hectic life. Late nights, early mornings. It’s unsustainable. You’re burning the candle at both ends.

And number three here, guys. Example Number three is a personal anecdote. When I first tried getting Aussie English off the ground, so this was back in the day when I was starting my PhD, maybe six years ago, five years ago, I can’t remember the exact year, but when I was first trying to get Aussie English off the ground, I was studying my PhD, which was, you know, five-six hours a day, five days a week, I was trying to organise a website, create the content for the podcast episodes, put them online, have a Facebook page, have a YouTube page, and so it required a lot of work. And I was also training at the gym five days a week doing jujitsu at this time. So, I felt, at least looking back on this time, I was burning the candle at both ends. I was overworking myself. I was staying up late, getting up early. I was burning the candle at both ends.

So, hopefully now, guys, you understand the expression ‘to burn the candle at both ends’. This is to overwork or exhaust yourself by doing too much, by doing too many things, especially, both late at night and early in the morning.

So, as usual, let’s go through a little listen and repeat exercise here, guys, where you guys can practice your pronunciation, whether you want to sound like an Aussie or not this a good excuse to just speak out loud, say these sentences, say these words, and focus on your pronunciation. If you want an Aussie accent that’s awesome, try and copy me exactly. If you just want to perfect your English in general, ignore my exact pronunciation of each word and focus more on the rhythm and the intonation. Okay? So, let’s go

To burn
To burn the
To burn the candle
To burn the candle at
To burn the candle at both
To burn the candle at both ends x 5

I was burning the candle at both ends
You were burning the candle at both ends
He was burning the candle at both ends
She was burning the candle at both ends
We were burning the candle at both ends
They were burning the candle at both ends
It was burning the candle at both ends

Great job, guys. Remember, if you want to work on this pronunciation exercise, as well as all previous ones, for every single lesson like this expression episode in the Aussie English Classroom you will get some kind of content that breaks this down. And more recently, these have been ten-minute videos where I go step by step through all the little changes in pronunciation like ‘to’ becoming ‘to’ and the words ‘both ends’ joining together with connected speech like ‘both_ends’. Okay? So, I go through all that sort of stuff. If you want to perfect your accent in Australian English or in English in general, because these rules apply to all English, then join up and give it a go. Remember, it’s just one point for your first month.

Alright, so today’s Aussie English fact. Today’s Aussie English fact is the history of whaling in Australia. Now, why did I pick this? What has this got to do with the expression, ‘to burn the candle at both ends’?

So, some of you might be thinking, “Well, whales were whaled to get oil to make fuel to use in lamps and in candles.”. And so, that was my train of thought. When I thought of what I could connect to the expression ‘to burn the candle at both ends’, I thought, “Okay. Candles, fuel, Australian history, whaling! Ah, this’s a good one!”.

Alright, so whaling did occur in Australia, and it was actually the number one industry in Australia after the colonists first arrived in 1788.

So, the first whaling station was located in a coastal town called Eden, which is in the south east of New South Wales, right on the border of Victoria and New South Wales. And soon after this period, there were whaling stations all around Australia, as well as on a few islands like Norfolk Island.

So, it was a booming industry between 1790s and the 1850s, and British colonies were not the only colonies to thrive off whaling in Australian waters. The US as well as Norway had a lot of ships hunting for whales off the shores of Australia as well. So, it was obviously a very lucrative business back in this period.

Whaling became a little less attractive in the 1850s in the face of the Australian Gold Rush. This was when they discovered gold in places like Bendigo, and, I think, Bathurst as well. I’m not sure, but there was somewhere in New South Whales too where they found gold in the 1850s. And so, obviously, it’s a lot more appealing to go into the Australian bush and look for gold in creeks and rivers near towns, etc., as opposed to getting on a ship and going away to, you know, sea for months at a time and potentially dying.

So, whaling reemerged as a revived industry in the 1900s, and this was thanks to the invention of the steam boat as well as the harpoon gun. So, both of these inventions, a steam engine used in boats to power boats so you no longer had to sail, and the harpoon gun, obviously, an explosive spear-throwing weapon, made whaling a great deal more efficient. So, it was a lot easier to do your hunting and get out in the ocean, etc..

So, whale stations increased during this time despite the decreased demand for whale oil as petroleum was invented around this time, and I think vegetable oil was also starting to be used for different things.

So, whales were hunted for numerous reasons. Whale oil was used in lamps and it was used to make soap and things like margarine. And whale meat was processed and traded and, you know, canned and sold overseas and around Australia. And the whale bones were used to make corsets, umbrellas, and things like wigs, which I found out. I never knew this.

Numerous species were targeted by the whaling industry, and these species included whales like, sperm whales, blue whales, humpback whales, southern right whales, fin whales, and even sei whales, and they were all hunted for different reasons depending on the different attributes of each of these whales. Notice there too they’re all baleen whales. So, these are the whales that have baleen, that thick hair-like structure in their mouth, and they use it for catching fish and krill and, you know, small animals in the ocean. They’re not toothed whales. So, I don’t think they were ever hunting things like orcas, killer whales, or dolphins around Australia, at least not to the same extent.

So, whaling was banned in Australia in 1978, and today, these whales are all classified as either vulnerable or severely endangered, although, the good news is that populations are increasing by about 8% a year as of 2015.

The International Whaling Commission, the IWC, was formed in 1946 to regulate the whaling industry and protect whales, and Australia was a member as of 1948.

So, as of 1999 the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act states that: the Australian whale sanctuary includes all Commonwealth waters within the sanctuary and it is an offence to kill, injure, or interfere with a whale and it will result in severe penalties for those who are convicted.

So, countries like Japan, Norway, and Iceland still participate in commercial whaling, even though there is an international ban that was implemented in 1986. However, these countries find a loophole in the system by saying their purpose for whaling is scientific research.

So, I thought I would finish up here, guys, sharing a little bit of my views on this and try to help you understand the Australian point of view, because I know I have some Japanese listeners, and some of them feel very passionate about whaling.

From the Australian standpoint, we just don’t like whales in our waters around Australia being hunted. It’s not something that modern Australia can remember doing. It’s a very old industry so they don’t tend to be any people who used to be involved in it around still.

Sea Shepherd is a bit of a controversial group that, you know, goes out there and harasses a lot of the whalers in the Australian waters and elsewhere in the world. A lot of people support them, but also condemn them. I tend to support them, because I don’t like the idea of whaling. But it’s one of those things where it is hard to argue against as well when it’s a cultural practice, though, that’s where things get murky. If it’s cultural, that’s fair enough, but if it’s being misrepresented as scientific when it’s not really scientific, that’s another problem. Okay?

Anyway, those are my sort of views. I like whales. I think they’re incredibly intelligent and I don’t like them being hunted. But at the same time, I am somewhat hypocritical, because I still eat meat. You know, I still eat cow, I still eat chicken. So, why I’m okay with one and not the other? There you go. I just feel uncomfortable with whales being killed.

Anyway, that’s it for today, guys. I would love to know your thoughts. Do you think whaling is okay? Do you think it’s not okay? Let me know what you think and I’ll chat to you next week. See you, guys.

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