Tuesday, May 24, 2011


In his book on Colonial American English, Richard Lederer reports that the term "fire and candle" meant the home or to keep a home in the 17th-century British American colonies.

A 1683 New York petition for a new charter stated,

"And if any ffreeman should bee absent out of the Citty a space of Twelve moneths and not keep fire and candle and pay Scott and lott should lose his freedom."

In 1696, part of the verdict in the case of Ann Richbell against the people of Rye, New York, stated,

"The Pattent with the rest of Papers needful Given to the Jury, and the Sheriffe sworn to Keepe them from fire & candles & etc untill they bringe in their verdict."

The term probably evolved from the definition of curfew, which was the name of a law, established during the reign of the English king, William, the conqueror, by which the people were commanded to dispense with fire and candle at eight o'clock at night.

The law was abolished in the reign of Henry I, but afterwards it signified the time at which the curfew formerly took place. The word curfew is derived, probably, from couvre few, or cover fire.

Colonial American English; Words and Phrases Found in Colonial Writing, now Archaic, Obscure, Obsolete, or Whose Meanings Have Changed. Richard M. Lederer, Jr. A Verbatim Book, Essex, Connecticut. 1985.