At the end of the day

Language & Culture

At the end of the day

How to understand the idiom 'at the end of the day'? English vs. Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian.

We know that in English, there is the idiom ‘at the end of the day’. It means ‘the most important fact is’. We can offer a few examples of this expression, and for instance, we can say: (1) ‘We had a lot of applicants, but at the end of the day, we chose you’. (2) Other people can be unsatisfied, but at the end of the day, only you can decide if you are happy with her’.

If we listen to the modern TV language in Serbia, we will notice that many public persons often use the phrase ‘at the end of the day’ translated as ‘na kraju dana’. Of course, Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian contain the expression ‘na kraju krajeva’ or ‘naposletku’, which we can translate as ‘at the end of (the) ends’. However, does the English expression ‘at the end of the day’ and its match ‘na kraju dana’ mean ‘the most important fact is’ or ‘at the end (of something in general)’? Does it imply the importance (of something) or the end of something we talk about?

As a native speaker of Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian fluent in English, I feel confused at this point. At the moment, I cannot recall an expression in the BCS language that means ‘the most important fact is’. At the same time, I don’t know whether those in Serbia using this English expression assign the expression its authentic meaning or apply the meaning of the local expression ‘na kraju krajeva.’

Due to this conflict, when expressions switch from one language to another, the main question is to understand what their users intend to say. Honestly, when I listen to speakers in the public space of Serbia using the expression ‘at the end of the day’, I am not sure if they want to say ‘at the end (of something in general)’ or ‘the most important fact is.’ Do they use the English expression to instill the meaning of the old BCS expression? Do they use the English expression transferring the authentic meaning of this expression to the English language? How do native Serbian speakers, who can hear it and, for instance, do not speak English, understand it in the Serbian language?

This issue does not exist in phrases such as, for example, ‘biti u elementu’ (‘to be in (their) element’). This expression has the same meaning in both English and BCS. So, we know that language is changing. Some languages affect other languages, but we should be sure what we want to say and what these expressions mean to us and to those we speak to, especially when we translate them from English in order to use them in our first language.

NOTICE: This text is not peer-reviewed. It aims to inspire and motivate language learners of Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian to think about possible cultural patterns when learning this/these language(s).