“I came to wonder if the game was really worth the candle.”
I found this in Alasdair Maclean’s Night Falls on Ardnamurchan, his account of the remote crofting community where he grew up. It refers to a situation where the returns from an activity or enterprise do not warrant the time, money or effort required (for Maclean the ‘game’ in question was raising cattle, which was at best an uncertain affair) . This expression, which began as a translation of a term used by the French essayist Michel de Montaigne in 1580, alludes to gambling by candlelight, which involved the expense of illumination. If the winnings were not sufficient, they did not warrant the expense.
Tomorrow I shall be looking for conversations in which to use this, especially with people who wont hate me too much for deliberately using a phrase they don’t know, just so I can then say, “Aha! Well, this is very interesting. It all goes back to Montaigne.”
And so on.