burn out

Idioms & Phrases

burn out

  1. Stop functioning because something, such as fuel, has been used up. For example, There's nothing wrong with the lamp; the light bulb just burned out. [Late 1300s]

  2. be burned out. Lose one's home, place of work, or school as the result of a fire. For example, Hundreds of tenants are burned out every year because of negligent landlords.

  3. Also, burn oneself out. Make or become exhausted or disaffected, especially with one's work or schooling. For example, Many young lawyers burn themselves out after a few years of 70-hour weeks. This metaphoric term alludes to a fire going out for lack of new fuel. Robert Southey used it in an 1816 essay: "The spirit of Jacobinism was burnt out in France." [1970s]

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer.
Copyright © 1997. Published by Houghton Mifflin.
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