ENGLISCH/741: Questions to Mrs. Gobbledygook (118) Light at the... (SB)


118. Light at the end of the tunnel ...

Dear Mrs Gobbledygook

I would like to know what the Idiom "There is light at the end of the tunnel" truly means?

Thank you very much in advance

Mohammed Jakubu (Nigeria, Africa)


Dear Mr Jakubu

Well a tunnel is a passage underground, usually a passage that leads under some kind of obstruction. For example, there may be a road or a railway-tunnel under a mountain, or these days even between France and England under the English Channel. A tunnel is often quite long and if it's not straight, that means that once you are in the tunnel it is impossible to see the end of the tunnel. So in fact it is dark in there. You cannot see any natural light. But once you get near the end of the tunnel, you can see "the light at the end of the tunnel". When you are in the tunnel it is dark and darkness is often connected with fear. So we most often use the expression in a figurative sense with darkness representing fear or some kind of trouble. Here is an example from a former BBC-series 10 years ago:

Kate is very depressed. Everything seems to be going wrong. Her husband has lost his job. Her son has failed his exams. Her father is very ill. And her daughter wants to marry a man that she doesn't like. She just can't see any light at the end of the tunnel.

Now imagine the situation two month later, with two friends talking about Kate:

A: How is Kate?

B: Well, things are going a bit better. Her husband is probably going on a retraining course. Her son is showing a bit more interest in his studies. And it seems as though her father is starting to respond to the medical treatment. But things are still difficult. She doesn't much like her daughters fiancee yet. But at least she is beginning to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

So things are still not good, but they are no longer totally bad. There is a small sign that things are getting better.

Hoping that this will help you to see some light at the end of the tunnel of English idioms.

Mrs Gobbledygook

16 July 2007