run on empty: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘run on empty’ mean?

The idiom "run on empty" means to continue doing something despite having no energy, resources, or motivation left.

Idiom Explorer

Deciphering Emptiness

The idiom "run on empty" is a common phrase used in the English language. It means continuing to operate or function despite having no energy, resources, or enthusiasm left. This metaphorical idiom reflects a state of depletion or exhaustion, particularly in regards to physical or mental energy.

The origins of this idiom can be traced back to the automobile industry. It specifically refers to the fuel gauge in vehicles. When the fuel level drops to a critically low point, the vehicle is said to be "running on empty." This indicates that it is at risk of running out of fuel soon. The literal usage of this phrase has influenced its figurative meaning.

While the exact date of the idiom's origin is uncertain, it became more commonly used in the 20th century, particularly in American English. The phrase gained popularity and entered everyday language, representing a broader sense of exhaustion or depletion in various contexts beyond the literal fuel gauge.

Today, "run on empty" is often used in informal conversations and in written and spoken media. It conveys a sense of being completely spent or lacking energy. It is commonly used to describe individuals who are physically exhausted or emotionally drained, as well as situations where resources, motivation, or inspiration are running low.

I cannot run, my fuel is completely depleted.

One related idiom is "run on fumes." This phrase implies that someone or something is barely operating on the last bit of energy or resources. It is similar to "run on empty" and emphasizes the notion of being close to depletion or exhaustion.

Another related idiom is "run on." This phrase suggests that someone or something is operating or speaking continuously without taking a break. It can be used to describe individuals who are talking incessantly or situations that seem to go on forever without a pause.

Yet another related idiom is "run out of steam." This phrase describes a situation where someone or something loses momentum or energy. It implies that a person or thing was once energetic or motivated, but has now exhausted their resources or enthusiasm, similar to "running on empty."

The idiomatic phrase "run on empty" has become an integral part of the English language. It offers a succinct and evocative way to describe a state of exhaustion or depletion. It serves as a reminder of the importance of maintaining a healthy balance in our lives, managing our energy levels, and being mindful of our limitations.

While the idiom "run on empty" has a well-established meaning and usage, its broader implications and potential interpretations leave room for further exploration. By delving deeper into the etymology and cultural significance of this phrase, we may uncover additional layers of understanding and insight into the human experience of depletion and perseverance.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom "run on empty" can be used in a sentence:

  1. After a long day of work, I felt like I was running on empty.
  2. She pushed herself to the limits and kept going even though she was running on empty.
  3. Despite being tired and hungry, he decided to keep running on empty until he reached the finish line.

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