Why do we say ‘can’t hold a candle to…’?
What does the phrase mean, and when did we start using it?
If someone or something is just not as good enough when compared to another, it is said that it can’t hold a candle to the far superior, much better version. So – as a hypothetical example – every other history magazine can’t hold a candle to History Revealed.
It doesn’t take much to illuminate the origins of the phrase. The light of a single candle will do. Before electric lights, craftsmen would employ someone as a second pair of hands, chiefly to hold candles close enough so they could see what they were doing.
As this was not a skilled job – the candle-holding apprentices were usually children – it would have been a grievous insult for trainee craftsmen to be told they weren’t good enough even to hold the candle, let alone do the expert, highly-trained work of the actual craftsmen.
This article was taken from BBC History Revealed magazine