Some of my colleagues use the word "candlelight" to mean "directly compare similar things".

A specific example is comparing two lines on a line chart like this:

Example of line chart with several series

"We can use this chart to candlelight result groups"

I cannot find any references to this meaning of the word. Is it a recognised use of the word and, if so, what is its etymology?

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    Candlelight as a verb can refer to examining eggs by holding in front of a candlelight (traditionally). Perhaps by analogy this is being used to say particular things are being taken up for examination. – Neil W Oct 23 '14 at 10:31
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    They probably mean 'highlight' . – user66974 Oct 23 '14 at 10:31
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    @Josh61: It must be at least feasible that the speaker was facetiously punning on highlight - on the grounds that the results for Groups 14/15 don't unambiguously distinguish those two (and noting the numbering system, perhaps results for Groups 3-12 were so mixed up they were excluded from the chart because they didn't show/highlight anything meaningful). Whatever - it looks like a one-off usage to me. With no further context it's either POB or rare domain-specific jargon, so I think it's Off Topic. – FumbleFingers Oct 23 '14 at 12:45
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    I have asked what they mean - they are certain of the meaning. Several other colleagues, including myself, didn't know the term, so I decided to look into its origins. Hence the question. There aren't any idiots involved, let's keep it civil. – joews Oct 23 '14 at 13:23
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    For eggs I've always heard it called "candling". The speaker may have had in mind "holding them up to the light", which you might do with two such charts, such that light shines through and allows you to compare them. – Hot Licks Oct 23 '14 at 19:11

I'm going to go ahead an put in an official answer to the actual question.

"Is it a recognised use of the word?"

The simple answer is, very strongly,


your friends / fellow inmates / bosses are either

(i) using a very strange "inside" terminology - perhaps from some specific technical field

(ii) using an "inside joke" -- some linguistic quirk that has built up between them.

(iii) they are using a confused - essentially "wrong", "silly" - mishearing or similar mistake.

A vast number of highly intelligent / professionally linguistic / literate people are on this 'ere list; and nobody's cottoned-on to anything.

So honestly, the answer to your specific question is "No"

I can confidently speak for the entire mailing list, when I say, we'd love some feedback on just what they meant. Cheers!

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    Which mailing list are you talking about? – TRiG Oct 24 '14 at 0:46

Note that candlestick charting is a technical term used in talking about stock markets.

Is there a chance this is the term you overheard?

(To be clear, the actual image you present looks nothing like a candlestick chart in any way. But there may have been some confusion.)

Candle as a verb can refer to examining eggs by holding in front of a candle.

It's very vague, but this makes me think of when you hold something up to a lightsource like this ...

A man in a white coat holding an X-ray picture of a hand in front of a wall-mounted illuminated viewer

Conceivably, your colleagues have in mind something related to: holding one up to the other with a light source behind.

But it's totally confused, and not in any way an idiom or anything that makes sense. Almost certainly, it is simply a mishearing somewhere along the chain.

  • A note, the primary image on Wikipedia is simplified. Check out candlestick highlighting graphs - it uses coloration to show change. And "candlestick highlight" almost fits... Except not the image in the question. – Izkata Oct 23 '14 at 13:57
  • Hi @Izkata ! Don't quite follow you? "candlestick charts" are a well-established format for market trading charts. (For instance, simply click to any online stock chart service whatsoever - say google or yahoo - and you can click the "candlestick" option to see a candlestick chart.). C/S charts have a black body if positive, white if negative (they didn't have red/green in 1700 :) ) – Fattie Oct 23 '14 at 14:04
  • (err ... white/black, of course :) ) – Fattie Oct 23 '14 at 14:13
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    Note that despite what Neil said, the accepted verb for examining eggs in front of a candle is to candle or candling, never candlelighting. – Marthaª Oct 23 '14 at 21:33
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    @TecBrat: the answer clearly says that the OP's chart is nothing like a candlestick chart. That doesn't preclude the possibility that the origin of this misused term is somebody mishearing or misunderstanding "candlestick chart". – Marthaª Oct 24 '14 at 15:18

I have not come across this usage. My guess is that it is derived from the practise of candling eggs to check for development of the embryo. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Candling

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    I agree that this is probably the origin, but there's still a misconception at hand, because candling is only ever candling, never candlelighting. – Marthaª Oct 23 '14 at 21:10
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    also, candling doesn't compare eggs, it merely shows qualities in an individual egg. – Oldcat Oct 23 '14 at 22:43

A sensible use of the concept "to candlelight" would be to display something in subdued or favourable light in order to conceal blemishes (faults). Whereas "in the harsh light of day" those faults would be more obvious. Hence "candle-lit dinners". Normal usage would be in the context of criticising someone else for "candle-lighting". One would not expect somebody who was engaged in "candle-lighting" to admit as much to the victim(s). But they might use the term when plotting with conspirators to deceive someone else.

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    This doesn't fit the OP's description of how it is used, but I like it. "That spike at the end of the graph is not going to go over well with the CFO. We've gotta candlelight it — tweak the scale, move the data points a bit, and make it look like we didn't expense that trip to Vegas." – Reinstate Monica -- notmaynard Oct 24 '14 at 14:28
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    I like this too. I think the OP should tell his colleagues "Oh yeah, I know that term, but you're using it wrong!" and explain it just as steveOw and @iamnotmaynard did here. – Brian Lacy Oct 24 '14 at 14:57
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    Purely speculation but how about "we will show the customer this graph which demonstrates that complaints are dropping in all departments. OK I know group 14 looks bad but we will candlelight it by giving it a pale green color on a white background"? – steveOw Oct 24 '14 at 15:05
  • @BrianLacy: Exactly! – Marthaª Oct 24 '14 at 15:22

It appears from a web search that it is popular to see how cameras perform in low-light situations, especially those lit by a candle.

It would be reasonable to assume someone took the noun candlelight from this and applied it as a generic term for comparison. Admittedly, it's a bit of a stretch to assume that the light source is now verbified to use as a term for comparison, but there is nothing obvious about the sentence or the graph that a casual observer would immediately associate candlelight with comparison in either context.

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    i see that as a real stretch, brother. it seems very unlikely!! – Fattie Oct 23 '14 at 12:58

My guess is:

  • If results are on separate charts (separate bits of paper) then they're difficult to compare.

  • If you put the papers together and put a candle behind them (without setting fire to the paper) then with light shining through the papers you can see all results together and compare them.

That's my guess, based on the meaning you stated in the OP.

It's non-standard: I would not have guessed "compare the results" if you hadn't told me that's what they meant.

  • Chris, I think you are likely correct. There is an image that you might consider adding to your answer on the Wikipedia page for silhouettes. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silhouette by way of confirmation that someone somewhere once used a candle to see the shape of something... – Spagirl Jun 21 '17 at 15:35

I interpret the expression to mean not so much "to compare side by side" but rather just "to scrutinize" as if by holding it up to a light source to see the finer details. It seems to me that you can "candlelight" those lines on the graph, and comparing them is one way to do so.

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    Except if you've ever had to work by candlelight, you'll know that it's spectacularly ineffective at highlighting fine details. Unless of course you light a couple of dozen candles, so the flickering of one is offset by a whole bunch of others... but the fact remains that a lightbulb would be much more effective. – Marthaª Oct 23 '14 at 21:09
  • what did people do before lightbulbs? never were able to scrutinize anything until 1879? – Octopus Oct 23 '14 at 23:26
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    Octopus, they lit a couple dozen candles, or they worked during daylight hours. Actually, mostly, they worked during daylight hours. – Marthaª Oct 24 '14 at 2:46
  • Lol Martha - again totally correct. I can't think of a worse analogy to use than "candlelight". Indeed the normal term is spotlight, of course. – Fattie Oct 24 '14 at 7:57

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