phrases, sayings, proverbs and idioms at

The meaning and origin of the expression: Hold a candle

Hold a candle

Other phrases about:

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Hold a candle'?

The expression 'can't hold a candle to' refers to someone who compares badly to an known authority - to be unfit even to hold a subordinate position.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Hold a candle'?

Apprentices used to be expected to hold the candle so that more experienced workmen were able to see what they were doing. Someone unable even to do that would be of low status indeed.

Sir Edward Dering used a similar phrase 'to hold the candle' in his The fower cardinal-vertues of a Carmelite fryar, 1641:

"Though I be not worthy to hold the candle to Aristotle."

'To hold a candle' is first recorded in 1883 in William Norris's No New Thing:

"Edith is pretty, very pretty; but she can't hold a candle to Nellie."

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

Browse phrases beginning with:
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T UV W XYZ Full List