Language What does the expression "let each stick hold its candle" mean?

"Let each stick hold its candle" is a very popular proverbial phrase

Language What does the expression "let each stick hold its candle" mean?

"Let each stick hold its candle" is a very popular proverbial phrase. Surely we have all heard or said this expression on countless occasions, almost always in a judgmental tone. Let's see its meaning and where it comes from.

Almost everyone knows what this idiom means or at least knows how to use it in the appropriate context. According to the definition offered by the dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), "each stick that holds its sail" is a colloquial phrase that "indicates that each one must bear the consequences derived from his actions." For their part, from the Cervantes Institute's virtual proverb they give the phrase a meaning more linked to suffering: "It states that each person has to suffer what they deserve or what corresponds to them."

In summary, the proverbial phrase "let each stick hold its candle" comes to say with a certain resignation that each one assumes their responsibilities and consequences. However, it also accepts different tones; It can be used with some bad temper, especially if it is intoned to make it clear that you do not want to help someone or as a reminder that we should not burden others with our responsibilities and obligations.

"Its use has increased in the media since January 2013 due to some cases of corruption," the Cervantes Institute points out, providing headlines and statements collected in the media that year, such as "there are many things to endure." or the direct "let each stick hold its candle."

There are those who omit the word stick, creating the variant that "everyone holds his candle", which does not change its meaning one bit. Precisely, that term is what takes us to the origin of the expression.

And the masts to which the phrase refers are the masts of sailboats. Whoever thought of an origin related to candles and holy weeks was wrong until now. It is a phrase with seafaring roots, as José María Iribarren points out in The Why of Sayings.

The term mast is frequently used in nautical jargon to refer to the mast. It is a fundamental part of a sailboat's engine, which must resist when the wind pushes the sails, thus propelling the boat.

Breaking a stick is an extremely serious problem, and it was even more serious centuries ago. A mast broken by an accident or attack was practically a fatal injury on the high seas, not counting the damage that the breakage could have caused to the crew or the rest of the ship. Thus, it would not be surprising if some captain had for the first time exclaimed "let each mast hold its sail" as a prayer, asking that the masts withstand the entire voyage so that the ship would reach safe port.

However, the phrase cannot be attributed to a specific person. There are also no reliable references about the century in which it emerged and became popular, which suggests that perhaps it is not as old as we think.

Yes, we can find it in authors such as Benito Pérez Galdós, who in Misericordia (1897) wrote: "Of course, if they say so much to me like that, I won't get involved in anything. Let them eat their bread with their bread, and each stick holds its candle." "But I want you to behave and not have bad times, nor find yourself, as until now, under the thumb of usurers."

The Spanish and seafaring origin of this proverbial phrase is not a rarity in the vast Spanish proverb, where we find a good handful of expressions related to navigation. Here are some well-known examples: