bitter end


noun

  1. the conclusion of a difficult or unpleasant situation; the last or furthest extremity: Despite the unpleasant scenes in the movie, she insisted on staying until the bitter end.
  2. Nautical.
    1. the inboard end of an anchor chain or cable, secured in the chain locker of a vessel.
    2. the end of any chain or cable.

noun

  1. nautical the end of a line, chain, or cable, esp the end secured in the chain locker of a vessel
    1. to the bitter enduntil the finish of a task, job, or undertaking, however unpleasant or difficult
    2. until final defeat or death
n.

In lexicons of sea language going back to 1759, the bitter end is the part of a cable which is round about the bits (two great timbers used to belay cables) when the ship is at anchor.

Bitter end of the Cable, the End which is wound about the Bitts. [“The News-Readers Pocket-Book: Or, a Military Dictionary,” London, 1759]

See bit (n.1). So, when a cable is played out to the bitter end, there is no more left to play. The term began to be used c.1835 in non-nautical use and with probable influence of bitter (adj.).

The last extremity; also, death or ruin. For example, I’m supporting the union’s demands to the bitter end, or Even though they fight a lot, I’m sure Mom and Dad will stay together to the bitter end. The source of this term may have been nautical, a bitter being a turn of a cable around posts, or bitts, on a ship’s deck, and the bitter end meaning “the part of the cable that stays inboard.” Thus, when a rope is paid out to the bitter end, no more remains. [Mid-1800s]

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