"Burning Daylight" origin

So, I’m watching “Klondike” the other night and one of the characters is the writer Jack London. The lead character is with London and is impatient to get somewhere. He says, “Come on. We’re burning daylight” or something like that. London, liking the phrase, writes it down on a piece of paper. Is one of his books the first place the phrase appears in writing? It seems to be a mandatory phrase in older western movie.

Jonathan Swift, “Directions to Servants,” 1731

The advice is satire, of course.

Lots of additional uses in the 19th century. No hits on “burning daylight” and Jack London.

Well, perhaps other than Burning Daylight was a 1910 novel by Jack London. :dubious:

But the phrase probably does pre-date anything by London, as you seem to have uncovered.

:smack: I must have had the search still set to 19th century.

Romeo and Juliet, Act I, Scene iv, line 539:

Mercutio: Come, we burn daylight, ho!


My guess is that it started off as a joke - the original phrase probably was something about not burning expensive lamp oil if you could avoid it, and this mutated into “burning daylight”.

I don’t think there’s any need to speculate on an earlier meaning. The meaning is pretty clear: daylight is a commodity in limited supply that shouldn’t be wasted (like lamp oil).

Agreed; ‘burning daylight’ is meant to convey the sense that time is not being used productively. See ‘Make hay while the sun shines’. You don’t want to gather your hay in a storm, so gather it during the sunny days. Similarly, if there is a task that needs to be done, and is best done when it’s light out, then do it in the daytime. Don’t use daylight hours to not-do things that need to be done.

I don’t know if ‘burning daylight’ has anything to do with burning candles or oil, other than it is something being consumed that cannot be replaced, or which needs to be replaced at a cost.

FWIW, it was a favourite phrase of a girlfriend back in the '80s.