Where did the Insult “Couldn’t Hold a Candle” Come From and What Does the Expression Mean?

The derogatory expression “couldn’t hold a candle” is from the sixteenth century.

Before electricity, experienced workers needing light to work by would have a young apprentice hold a candle so that they could see to complete a complex job.

Holding a candle for a skilled tradesman gave the apprentice a chance to watch and learn, but if he couldn’t even do that properly, it was said disparagingly that “he couldn’t hold a candle” to the tradesman.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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