Hold a candle

Posted by ESC on January 16, 2004

In Reply to: Hold a candle posted by Alexander Clement on January 16, 2004

: Okay, I know this expression has been discussed ad infinitum but I thought I might add something to the mix. I always understood this phrase to be associated with the plastering trade. "Huh?" I hear you cry. When plastering a wall the idea is to get the smoothest, flattest surface possible and the best way of telling just how good a job you've done is to hold a candle to it. It's by far the best source of light to show up any unsightly bumps. A blemish free wall is one you'd be proud to hold a candle to. A bad job you wouldn't. Thus if someone 'can't hold a candle' to someone else, they are far the poorer in comparison.

Interesting. Another theory:

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).