Slang dictionary

means to an end

[ meenz too uhn end ]

What does means to an end mean?

A means to an end is an activity or process done in order to accomplish a goal. Often, the activity itself is not enjoyable or considered important.

The phrase means to an end is used to describe things that a person considers to be necessary to suffer through in order to accomplish their real goals. When a person is described as a means to an end, it means that another person is using them as an expedient tool to get what they want.

Example: Meetings are boring but to get work done, they are a necessary means to an end.

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Related words

double-edged sword, screw the pooch, square up, wag the dog

Where does means to an end come from?

In the phrase means to an end, the word means is used in the sense of “a method or instrument used to obtain a result.” It is used in this sense in phrases like a means of communication or the means of production. The word end refers to an ultimate result or a conclusion.

The first records of the phrase means to an end come from around 1651. In addition to meaning an unexciting but necessary method that a person only endures because it helps them reach their real goal, it was also used to refer to any tool, method, or object that was used to accomplish a task.

Means to an end is used similarly to (as well as confused with) the phrase the end justifies the means, which also refers to goals and the (unpleasant) methods used to achieve them.

Examples of means to an end

BIO: I've talked about crappy jobs I did when I was younger. Each was just a 'means to an end'. They were just ways to get to my big goals.
@Todd_McFarlane, May 19, 2010
Lots of politicians lie as a means to an end -- to wiggle out of a scandal or to inflate their policy accomplishments. Trump was willing to lie about everything, all the time, often for no obvious reason. This was lying as a way of life.
Daniel Dale, CNN, January 19, 2021

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Who uses means to an end?

Means to an end is a common phrase that is used to refer to methods or activities that a person uses to complete a goal. Often, this phrase specifically refers to unpleasant activities or things a person really doesn’t care much about.

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Note

This is not meant to be a formal definition of means to an end like most terms we define on Dictionary.com, but is rather an informal word summary that hopefully touches upon the key aspects of the meaning and usage of means to an end that will help our users expand their word mastery.