Doesn’t hold a candle?

中国日报网 2017-10-31 16:51



Doesn’t hold a candle?Reader question:

Please explain this sentence; particularly “hold a candle”:

The Tundra is the only other half-ton truck that feels almost on par with this engine when it comes to hauling, but the Toyota doesn’t hold a candle to this truck when fuel usage is taken into account.

My comments:

This means that “this truck”, whatever it is, is a superior half-ton truck to the Toyota Tundra. The Tundra can almost match this unspecified in terms of hauling, but can’t compare to “this truck” in fuel efficiency.

In fact, it doesn’t hold a candle, meaning it’s by far inferior.

The proper idiom is “cannot hold a handle to someone”, meaning the latter is the much better one at a particular job or task.

“Hold a candle”, you see, probably refers to the age-old practice of an apprentice holding a candle to give light so that the master could get some work done during the night. The apprentice cannot match the master in terms of skills and technique and so it is always the apprentice or someone less skillful who holds the candle.

Now, by the analogy, if you cannot even hold a candle to someone, you cannot compare with them at all.

In explaining the idiom, gave an example, in William Norris’s No New Thing (1883), as follows:

“Edith is pretty, very pretty; but she can’t hold a candle to Nellie.”

So, Edith or Nellie, who is the prettier one?

You’re right. Nellie is the prettier one, and by far, even though Edith is very good looking. That is, Edith is very good looking in comparison with most women, but in front of Nellie, she pales considerably.

All right, here are media examples of people who cannot hold a candle to someone superior or something that cannot hold a handle to something else that’s bigger, brighter or far more significant (By the way, this idiom is almost always used in the negative):

1. The lights on your Christmas tree may be beautiful, but they can’t hold a candle to nature’s starlight. See for yourself as we go “On The Trail” with contributor Conor Knighton:

Great Basin National Park isn’t really on the way to anywhere. Head to this remote stretch of the Nevada desert, and you can easily spend a day wandering the pines by yourself.

But if you go home when the sun goes down, you’ll have missed one of Great Basin’s greatest attractions.

As they’re found of saying, “Half of this park is after dark.”

THIS is what Great Basin looks like at night. The stars shine so brightly here, because this place is so unbelievably dark.

“We’re pretty rare. This is one of, if not the, darkest place in the lower 48,” said Annie Gilliland, part of a special team of stargazers at Great Basin.

“We are the ‘Dark Rangers,’ Yes, I do love telling people I am a Dark Ranger here!”

The “Dark Rangers” lead nighttime programs, setting up telescopes and showing off distant galaxies to people who may be seeing them for the very first time.

One Boy Scout told Knighton, “It makes me think our world is so small, and the galaxy out there is so big, our minds can’t even imagine it.”

- On The Trail: The brilliance of the night sky,, December 25, 2016.

2. Instead of attacking Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, President Donald Trump should start fact-checking his tweets, angel investor and CEO Jason Calacanis told CNBC on Wednesday.

Trump incorrectly tweeted Wednesday morning that Amazon owns the Washington Post to avoid paying a so-called “internet tax,” when in fact it is Jeff Bezos — not Amazon — that owns the media company.

“Amazon pays their taxes,” said Calacanis. “This is a completely fake tweet. It’s fake news.”

“Nobody believes what Trump is saying anymore. He tweets at 5:00 a.m.; nobody vets the tweets. It’s a complete embarrassment for our country that the president is tweeting factually incorrect stuff,” he said.

This isn’t the first time Trump has targeted Bezos. At a campaign rally in February 2016, then candidate Trump told the crowd: “If I become president, oh [does Amazon] have problems. They’re going to have such problems.” He added that Bezos only bought the Post to have “political influence.”

Donald Trump can’t hold a candle to what Jeff Bezos has added to society. He’s created millions of jobs and is a tremendous innovator. Bezos is going to give his money away — he’s done an amazing thing for America,” Calacanis said on Squawk Alley.

- Trump ‘can't hold a candle’ to Bezos’ contributions to society, says investor Calacanis,, June 28, 2017.

3. Few, if any, of Lewis Hamilton’s 58 grand prix victories have been as hard-boiled as this. It was not the prettiest demonstration of his race-craft but it was surely among the most defiant, as he held off a charging Sebastian Vettel with a prize example of thou-shalt-not-pass frontrunning, halving his rival’s championship lead from 14 points to seven.

“I told you what I was here for,” he said, after his fifth win this season reignited his exhilarating duel with the one driver able to hold a candle to his talent. “And I wasn’t leaving here without it.”

This was a weekend to reaffirm Hamilton’s stature as perhaps the finest British sportsman of his generation. While Andy Murray might reasonably take issue with that claim, the Scot spends his Sundays hitting a tennis ball, not hurling a delicately-tuned machine around the forested majesty of Spa, where a ride through the steepling Rivage generates G-forces more familiar to fighter pilots. “There are only three sports,” Ernest Hemingway once argued. “Bullfighting, motor racing and mountaineering. All the rest are merely games.”

As a personality, Hamilton continues to polarise, both by his esoteric fashion sense – he changed straight from his race overalls on Sunday into off-the-shoulder black dungarees bought on his latest trip to New York – and his mercurial mood swings. But in this chapter for Formula One, he is without peer. Just 24 hours after he had equalled Michael Schumacher’s 68 pole positions, he underlined his quicksilver racing instincts by thwarting Vettel despite carrying less pace and inferior tyres, as well as negotiating the controversial intervention of a safety car.

- Lewis Hamilton wins Belgian Grand Prix in his 200th Formula One race to close title gap,, August 27, 2017.


About the author:

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

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)

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