“’A were a chendle, drownin’ now in what erst fueled ’am.”

The character may be from an old book (Ezra Winfield, by Charlotte Anne Mountbank), and speaking in a regional dialect, but you can understand right away the situation and may even get the image.

A chendle is, or first was, a kind – or a state – of a candle. There are many people who don’t know that candles burn wax: “Where does the wax from dripless candles go?” was for a short time some drip’s idea of a head-scratcher challenge. The answer, of course, is that it all burns. Wax is the fuel; the wick just gives it a point of ignition. A dripless candle is designed so that the burn rate matches the fuel supply quite neatly, and often there’s harder wax on the outside to cup the softer wax in the middle. Most candles are less carefully made, and a chendle’s flaw is an excess of wax – or at least a poor shaping of it. It is not like Edna St. Vincent Millay’s candle burning at both ends, which will not last the night but gives a lovely light; this is a candle that burns at one end only, but melts the wax around it faster than it can burn it – and, rather than seeing the excess run down the sides, candle-in-bottle style, pools it around the wick and drowns in it.

But one doesn’t usually hear or see drowning candles referred to as chendles now. When chendle is used at all, it’s a term for a kind of person. We are the wicks for our own passions, and we need the fuel for them in just the right measure; some people are so enthusiastically good at something that they get more and more of it to do, until at last they burn out from a surfeit of the thing that had kept them going. People who organize other people’s lives and events – teachers, producers, project managers – seem particularly susceptible to this. It is up to the rest of us, their friends, colleagues, and family, to make sure they do not go chendle into that goodnight.

On a literal candle, a solution to the problem of a chendle is sometimes a bit of guttering – a gap that allows the pooled wax to drain away – though if it drains too much it may deprive the wick of enough fuel to continue. For human chendles, guttering may or may not be a solution, but they do sometimes end up in the gutter, or at least their vocabulary might (which can be good for stress relief).

The word chendle is quite evidently related to candle, and is apparently influenced by a regional accent. But it may actually be an imitation of a different region’s accent – just as a person may wish to imply something about a thing by imitating a distinctive accent (“It’s rawther nice”; “Where’d you get the knoife?”), it’s not impossible that chendle arose some centuries ago in one part of England mocking another part’s pronunciation of candle, as though to imply that candles from that other place were unwisely made.

Not impossible, but not the case. This is another new old word: I just made it up for you now, complete with spurious etymology (and fake book by fake author). But do you know another word for what it names? I didn’t think so. Let’s keep the flame going for this one.

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