Originally the phrase meant exactly what it said. Before houses had gaslighting installed in the early nineteenth century, the only forms of lighting were candles and paraffin lamps. A candle could be placed horizontally with both ends lit for maximum effect. The expression “not worth a candle” came to be used to describe something that was worthless. Candles that were in constant use had a monetary value, being in fact an early fuel bill!
One of the improvements Prince Albert made to Buckingham Palace, was to improve the quality of the candles used. He replaced the tallow candles, which smoked and had an unpleasant odour, and impacted on the enjoyment of Royal Balls. George V1 employed thirty staff to keep the candles lit in the Royal Chandeliers, until the candles were replaced with electric bulbs.
Another expression used to describe someone deemed superior in looks or in talent, is a statement that it is not possible to “hold a candle” to that person. There is no light, either actual or metaphorical, in which the person could otherwise be viewed, other than as superior to the other.
In modern times the expression usually describes someone who gets very little rest, being active very late at night and rising early in the morning. The reasons for this may vary. Some may be enjoying an excessively active social life and be out at some amusement, from dusk until dawn. The pandemic has largely put a stop to this and it is more likely that people up half the night are on social media, or checking their mobile phones. Even before the pandemic, excessive use of the internet had been identified as a cause of sleep loss.
Students may be studying hard for examinations “burning the midnight oil” and others may be working in jobs or professions that demand long hours. Carers of sick partners or children may get very little sleep, being up half the night and early in the morning, to attend to the person’s
needs. So, the expression does not always describe a life of pleasure, as the candle can be burnt at both ends in a life of service.
People talk about getting their “beauty sleep” to avoid long hours awake showing in their faces, with drawn features and dark shadows under the eyes. Anything less than a minimum of four hours sound sleep may result in damaged health, as the body needs to rest to repair itself.
It is best, where possible, to metaphorically snuff out the candle at a reasonable hour, to avoid “burn out” ourselves.
In the nineteen sixties I worked in London stores. Worked as an Insurance Clerk in the City of London during the nineteen seventies. Divorced in the nineteen nineties. Now I am a retired Civil Servant, managing home and garden and escaping onto social media whenever possible.
” Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst and unsurprised by anything in between ” Maya Angelou “I know why the caged bird sings” Autobiography. This is an example of a proverb, written in poetic language, offering advice. The Old Testament has a whole Book of Proverbs, giving instruction on how life should be lived.
An adage is a treasured observation, passed down in time and accepted as being true. It might, for example be handed down from a Buddhist text, or come from Adagia, a collection of Greek and Latin adages and proverbs. The observation that ” many hands make light work” is taken from Adagia.
An Aphorism is a direct definition of proper conduct. The word was first used by Hippocrates, the Father of Medicine, when writing his “Aphorisms of Hippocrates.”His first Aphorism states that ” Life is short and Art is long, the crisis fleeting, experience perilous and decision difficult. The physician must not only be prepared to do what is right himself, but also to make the patient, the attendants and the externals cooperate “. These words hold true in medical practice today.
Other examples of aphorisms are ” He who hesitates is lost”, ” “Actions speak louder than words”, ” Tis better to have loved and lost, than never loved at all” This last aphorism by Lord Tennyson, has become something of a “cliche”, which is an over used phrase that has lost its impact.
Further examples of adages are “Eat to live, not live to eat” ” “Birds of a feather flock together” and “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise ” There again it is possible to lapse into cliche, a danger with phrases in common use.
The saying first appeared in the English language in 1668, borrowed from the French word “apropos,” meaning literally “to the purpose”. Since then, it has been used as an adverb, adjective, noun and preposition. It is a very versatile word. The correct pronunciation is ap-ra-po.
Sometimes it is used as a synonym for appropriate, but this is a deviation from its original meaning. Rarely it is used as a noun, when saying that which is referred to, has apropos – relevance ( noun) In French avoir de l’a propos.
” Apropos of Nothing”, the title of an autobiography by Woody Allen, is also an idiom, where the meaning is not deducible from the individual words. The action has no relevance to any previous discussion or situation – the opposite in fact to the usual meaning of apropos.
Used as a preposition, it leads on to further discussion of a subject of event, to which it refers. e.g ” apropos the proposed changes… ” As a preposition, apropos finds a place in formal letters. e.g ” apropos the receipt of the deed … ” Using it as an adjective, Charlotte Bronte wrote to her friend that ” Your letter coming is very apropos” If the wording of Charlotte’s letter had been ” Your letter arrived apropos” then Charlotte would have been using the word as an adverb.
If this is all Double Dutch to you, probably you will take the view that the word has indeed disappeared from general use. There is of course no reason not to use the word, either in spoken or written form, where it is relevant.
How was your day? This has become my standard greeting, when opening an evening chat with a friend. Back comes the reply “the usual” This means that the day has been like the day before and probably the day before that. Is that a bad thing? I suppose it depends on what “the usual” means for you. It could be a cause to celebrate. Another day has passed, with nothing to disturb the daily routine, and this brings with it some contentment.
If your usual day is grim, for whatever reason, the reply ” the usual ” will come with undertones of resignation, meaning that you have faced and survived another day. People for whom “the usual” means “pretty good” may have no conception of your usual, which to them would seem unbearable.
No doubt there are a myriad of self-help books, with advice on “being positive” and on not “catastrophising” and it is true that if these books inspire fortitude , they can be of help. Especially during the pandemic, there are people, who find themselves in desperate situations, cut off from family and friends. Nevertheless, it is essential that they do seek help and if asked “How was your day?” they do not reply “the usual”.