Take this sentence:

I gave a beggar all my change, and he lit up like a candle.

It's used in Norwegian, but I wonder if it's perfectly clear what it means in English, and are there better idioms to use instead?

  • It's not a common idiom. "Lit up like a Christmas tree" is more common, and the meaning more obvious. Saying "candle" suggests the effect was somewhat less dramatic.
    – Hot Licks
    May 8, 2016 at 13:52
  • 2
    I would say that the Christmas tree example is more literal - "the shopping mall was lit up like a Christmas tree". In the OP, I suspect that the English would be more "I gave the beggar all my change, and his face lit up". (A dictionary search might suggest that "lit up" == "drunk" in UK English, but I've never heard it used that way - there are far more colourful euphemisms...!) May 8, 2016 at 13:56

2 Answers 2


It is a common idiom in English. But because we have pretty much moved away from candles to electric light, it's used nowadays mainly in literary contexts, as a formula.

The expression on the face shows delight.


The original phrase was "lit up like a Roman candle."

A Roman candle is not a candle at all, but a kind of firework, a long cylinder that shoots streams of burning stars and rockets skyward. You can watch an entertaining video of one here. It originally came from China but was imported to Europe through Rome and so got its name (the same thing happened with Venetian blinds and turkeys).

Given that background, "he lit up like a candle" might imply more vigor in his reaction than you actually intend.

And you might consider George Orwell's advice on the subject: "Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print." Come up with something original.

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