eleventh hour

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From a story in the Bible of workmen hired at the eleventh hour (that is, late in the day):

  • King James Bible, Matthew 20:6:
    And about the eleventh hour he went out, and found others standing idle, and saith unto them, Why stand ye here all the day idle?


eleventh hour (plural eleventh hours)

  1. (idiomatic) A point in time which is nearly too late; the last minute.
    • 1857, William Makepeace Thackeray, chapter 85, in The Virginians:
      If she repented, though at the eleventh hour, it was not too late.
    • 1922, James Joyce, Ulysses, Episode 16
      Highly providential was the appearance on the scene of Corny Kelleher when Stephen was blissfully unconscious but for that man in the gap turning up at the eleventh hour the finis might have been that he might have been a candidate for the accident ward...
    • 1961, Philip Toynbee, Underdogs: Eighteen Victims of Society, page 56:
      I have extricated myself so far at many eleventh hours and perhaps there is some hope in this.
    • 2009, Tony Karon, "Why Money Alone Will Not Fix Gaza," Time, 3 March:
      Egypt had managed to bring the two sides to the brink of a deal two weeks ago, before internal political dynamics prompted the Israelis to back out at the eleventh hour.
  2. (idiomatic) The final hour leading to a crucial moment or an important event.
  3. (idiomatic, usually hyphenated) Used attributively.
    • 2008, Bryan Walsh, "George W. Bush's Last Environmental Stand," Time, 5 Nov.:
      Eleventh-hour executive changes are not unique to this outgoing Administration — President Bill Clinton launched a number himself before leaving office.

Usage notes[edit]