“In 1635, this phrase was used by Francis Quarles in literary work which was a synonym to the word ‘elucubrate’. It literally meant to work by the side of a candle. To burn the mid night oil was the English way of saying that someone was working hard through the night because candles were used in the olden times to provide light at night. The word ‘elucubrate’ was defined in 1623 as doing things by the candlelight.
Recently candles are no longer used as a source of light during the night but the phrase is still popular and has been used in an album by Dolly Parton and Porter Wagoner.” – theidioms.com
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