Worth the candle?

中国日报网 2014-06-06 11:35



Worth the candle?

Reader question:

Please explain “worth the candle” in this sentence: “Such temporary measures are not worth the candle to counter a permanent problem.” What candle?

My comments:

In other words, the measures being proposed are worthless. They’re not worth implementing.

Implementing these measures, you see, means work, i.e. energy and effort. And it won’t be worth the energy and effort – hence the analogy “not worth the candle”.

Literally, it means any gains to be made from implementing the measures won’t even cover the cost of buying candles to provide the lighting for getting the work done.

Metaphorically speaking, of course, because today people no longer use candles for night work. They use electric light bulbs and other smarter lighting systems in modern cities. But one time in history, candles were the mainstay of night life. And we can imagine in those days, candles could be expensive for the poorer families. Evening activities might thus have understandably been kept to a sort of minimum in order to cut the cost on candles. Presumably people from poor families didn’t stay up all night playing poker or other games unless if the game was deemed worth the candle, i.e. really exciting and entertaining.

I lived in the countryside for awhile as a child and have fond memories of life in the country. We in those days mostly burned the oil lamp instead of the candle at night. Even if oil lamps are long consigned to history, folks today keep describing some activity or other as “not worth the oil”. That means the same thing – the gains made from getting some job done won’t be enough to buy the oil burnt from the lamp during the process.

Well, oil lamps or candles are all bygones but the phrase “the game is not worth the candle” has permanently caught on in the West. It’s probably going to stay. It’s a fun phrase to learn. At any rate, it’s a fun phrase to write about for me.

Alright, here are media examples of things that are deemed worth or not worth the candle:

1. The proposals for fast-track sackings angered the National Union of Teachers, which insisted head teachers should never allow a teacher to slip into gross incompetence. Doug McAvoy, its general secretary, said: “The country invests a great deal in the training of teachers and should not have that investment wasted through problems not being addressed early enough.”

The Government is to follow up its consultation with a second on ways to accelerate dismissal of incompetent head teachers. Among options under consideration is the introduction of fixed-term contracts for heads, which has already met fierce opposition from head teachers’ leaders.

The LGA, which is seeking to claw back influence in the hiring and firing of heads from school governors, proposes an alternative scheme under which staff moving into management positions in schools would work for a period “on trial” before being given a permanent post if they proved competent.

A crisis in recruiting head teachers which threatens the drive for higher standards in schools will spiral unless the Government breaks public spending limits and boosts heads’ pay, a teachers’ leader warned yesterday.

In a letter to David Blunkett, Secretary of State for Education, David Hart of the National Association of Head Teachers said more and more teachers believed salary increases through promotion to headship were “not worth the candle”.

- Failing teachers could be sacked in a month, Independent.co.uk, June 20, 1997.

2. Last year about this time, everyone was excited about Copenhagen. UCLA Law School even sent its own delegation. President Obama was going to come. It was the biggest thing in climate since Kyoto — maybe bigger, since now the US had an administration that believes in science. Now? Not so much. Take a look at your newspapers: Wikileaks; Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; President Obama’s morally outrageous and politically stupid call for a federal hiring freeze. Cancun? Is it the high season now? There are two obvious reasons why the gap between last year and this. First, the media has the attention span of a gnat for anything not related to sex or whatever Fox News decides to get outraged about today; climate talks are so last year. And of course, the GOP takeover of the House means that Congressional action on climate is impossible. But I think it’s also that people are slowly coming around to the idea that lots of us have been saying for years now: making progress on climate will not occur through high-profile global conferences. The politics are simply too complex for this kind of process to work. They will be done on lower levels, in incremental phases, sometimes bilaterally or multilaterally. But no more than that. Remember that it was Sudan and Venezuela that blocked even getting the mild Copenhagen Agreement adopted last year. If they can do that, the whole process is not really worth the candle.

- What if they gave a climate summit and nobody came? NewsRoom.UCLA.edu, November 30, 2010.

3. There may have been a golden age somewhere in the post abysm of time, when doors were left unlocked and every beggar was a gentleman. But if thieves were unknown it was probably because the property ripe for spoliation was not worth the having, just as some games are not worth the candle. There came a time, however, and it has existed now for untold ages, when keys and locks could not be multiplied enough and when the size and weight of the key became the measure of security. The old bank safe key which required more than bare digital force to turn may still be seen in the old curiosity shops of the cities; and occasionally in the cabinet of some bank, among the obsolete bills and other curious survivals, preserved for the wonder of a new generation. If there had been no scientific progress, step by step, in advance of the furtive uses of criminal devices, neither locks nor keys nor great masonry of wrought iron would suffice to safeguard the savings and treasure of the world. And yet during the last two years there have been more bank safes "cracked" and despoiled than ever before within the same time, though the art of safe construction appears to have reached a stage of comparative perfection.

Since August, 1898, to the time of writing no less than 186 banks have suffered from burglarious attack, 103 proving successful, the remained having failed. The total amount of money stolen, so far as the sums have been disclosed, aggregates about $280,000. Divided among a hundred banks, the average loss is not large — but considering the apparent ease with which the money has been secured the matter becomes grave. But the bare money loss does not constitute the whole debit account, since, as is obvious, considerable property is destroyed in such raids. Costly vaults are frequently damaged beyond repair, safes are reduced to scrap iron, and furniture wrecked….

- The Problem of Bank Burglary, AmericanBanker.com, May 25, 2014.




About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.



Ebbs and flows

Train of thought

Fair game

Long leash?

More Pinocchios?


(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)




















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