Can't hold a candle to; Carry a torch for

Posted by ESC on May 13, 2003

In Reply to: To "hold a candle" for someone posted by Word Camel on May 12, 2003

: : I have seen how "hold a candle to" someone (or for someone) can mean to assist, in the context of an apprentice holding a candle for a senior worker. My family has always used it to mean yearning for someone romantically, usually unrequitedly... Have we just got the wrong end of the stick (or possibly the candle?) or is there some basis for our use of this phrase???

: It sounds like a mixture of "can't hold a candle" to and "to carry a torch for".

: To hold a candle for - from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable is:

: He is not fit to hold the candle to him. He is very inferior. The allusion is to link-boys who held candles in theatres and other places of night amusement. 2
: "Others say that Mr. Handel
: To Bonocini can't hold a candle."
: Swift.

: To carry a torch for may refer to the Greek and Roman custom of the wedding torch. In the wedding procession the bride carried a torch made of Hawthorne lit by the fire in her own house and to light the hearth of her new home.

CAN'T HOLD A CANDLE TO YOU - ".It goes back to Shakespeare's time, before there was any such thing as street lighting. In those days a person returning home from a tavern or theater would be accompanied by a linkboy, who carried a torch or candle. These linkboys were considered very inferior beings, so to say that Tom couldn't 'hold a candle to ' Harry meant that Tom was very much inferior to Harry." From the Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollins, New York, 1977, 1988).

Old Flames Can't Hold A Candle To You
By: Pebe Sebert & Hugh Moffatt

Downtown tonight, I saw an old friend, someone who
I use to take comfort from long before I met you
I caught a spark from his eyes of forgotten desire
With a word, or a touch, I could have rekindled that fire

Old flames can't hold a candle to you
No one can light up the night like you do
Flickering embers of love
I've known one or two
But old flames can't hold a candle to you. archives/lyrics/oflames.shtml Accessed May 12, 2003.

TO CARRY THE TORCH FOR ONE - "It is the torch of love that is understood in this modern American term, though sometimes no more than the torch of loyalty, for the 'torchbearer' is one who is loud in his praise of a friend. But the torch has long been an emblem of enlightenment and of burning devotion, and, in 1775, Richard Sheridan used the expression, 'The torch of love,' in his epilog to 'The Rivals.'" From A Hog on Ice by Charles Earle Funk (1948, Harper & Row, New York).