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Carrying a Torch: Unveiling the Origin and Meaning of Love’s Flame

Carrying a Torch: Unveiling the Meaning and Origin of the PhraseHave you ever heard someone say they “carry a torch for someone”? This intriguing phrase has a deep meaning hidden behind it, and its origin is equally fascinating.

In this article, we will explore the definition and etymology of “carry a torch for someone,” shedding light on its rich history and symbolism. So, let’s untangle the mysteries surrounding this phrase and delve into its captivating world.

Definition and Origin of “Carry a torch for someone”

The Meaning of “Carry a Torch for Someone”

To carry a torch for someone means to remain in love with them, even though your feelings are not reciprocated. It encapsulates the bittersweet pain of unrequited love, where one person holds onto hope despite repeated rejection.

The phrase vividly portrays the enduring flame of affection, blazing amidst heartache and longing.

The Origin and Inspiration of the Phrase

The phrase “carry a torch for someone” draws its inspiration from the world of torch songs and torch singers. Torch songs, known for their melancholic lyrics, were popularized in the early 20th century.

They expressed the agony of unrequited love and the yearning of someone who still carried a flickering torch for their beloved. Originating from the depiction of unrequited love in torch songs, the phrase gained widespread use due to the emotional connection it provided.

The power of these sad love songs resonated with individuals who found solace in knowing that they were not alone in their longing. Etymology and Imagery of “Carry a Torch for Someone”

Attempted Etymological Connections

While the precise etymology of “carry a torch for someone” remains uncertain, some suggest a connection to the ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes. Known for his cynicism and desire for genuineness in human relationships, Diogenes carried a lamp during daylight, claiming he was searching for an honest man.

Although not directly related, Diogenes search for truth and the torchbearer’s longing for reciprocated love share a common theme of unfulfilled desires. Another attempted etymological connection traces back to ancient matrimonial rites.

During Roman weddings, a bride was accompanied by a torchbearer, symbolizing her transition from her father’s home to her husband’s. If the bride carried the torch herself, it signified her desire to reconcile any issues lingering from her previous relationship.

This connection mirrors the sentiment of “carrying a torch” for someone, as it implies the hope for reconciliation and a renewed love.

Imagery and Symbolism of a Flaming Torch of Ardor

The imagery of a flaming torch serves as a powerful symbol for the relentlessness of love and the endurance of emotions. Like a torch illuminating the darkness, the phrase “carry a torch for someone” evokes the intensity of affection that persists, despite the difficulties faced by the torchbearer.

The burning flame represents the undying ardor that keeps the torchbearer’s love alive. The torch’s flame also encompasses a sense of hope, remaining a beacon of possibility for future reconciliation.

Though the reality may be bleak, those who carry a torch believe in the potential rekindling of their love, fostering a profound sense of optimism.


As we conclude our exploration of the meaning and origin of “carry a torch for someone,” we have discovered the depth behind the phrase’s power and imagery. From its connection to torch songs and torch singers, to the attempted etymological links dating back to Diogenes and ancient matrimonial rites, there is an undeniable richness to this phrase.

So, the next time you hear someone mention that they “carry a torch for someone,” remember the profound emotions and longing encapsulated within those words. It is a testament to the endurance of love, the human capacity for hope, and the flaming torch that continues to burn brightly in the hearts of those who dare to carry it.

Historical Context of the Phrase

Time period when the phrase first appeared

The phrase “carry a torch for someone” first emerged during the 1920s, a decade known for its cultural and societal shifts. This period, often referred to as the Roaring Twenties, witnessed significant changes in art, fashion, and especially music.

It was during this era that the phrase found its place in the lexicon of popular culture.

Popularity of torch songs in the mid-1920s

The mid-1920s saw an incredible surge in the popularity of torch songs, providing the emotional backdrop for the phrase “carry a torch for someone.” Torch songs were characterized by their poignant lyrics, expressing feelings of heartbreak, rejection, and unrequited love. These songs struck a chord with audiences who found solace in the shared experience of longing and unfulfilled desires.

The rise of jazz and blues music further contributed to the appeal of torch songs. African American artists like Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, and Ma Rainey brought their unique voice to these sad love songs, captivating listeners with their raw and soulful performances.

These artists became torchbearers of emotion, channeling their own experiences of love and loss into their music. Related Terms – “Torch Song” and “Torch Singer”

Definition and meaning of “torch song”

A torch song is a genre of music that emphasizes the expression of deep emotions, particularly those associated with unrequited love, heartbreak, and longing.

These songs are often characterized by their melancholic tone and evocative lyrics, capturing the pain and vulnerability of a broken heart. Torch songs serve as a cathartic outlet for both the songwriters and the listeners, providing a shared experience of love’s complexities.

Definition and meaning of “torch singer”

A torch singer is a female vocalist who specializes in performing torch songs. These women singers are known for their ability to convey raw emotion and vulnerability through their soulful performances.

Torch singers captivate their audiences with their powerful voices, drawing them into a world where love is both a source of joy and pain. Through their delivery of torch songs, torch singers become conduits for shared experiences of longing and heartache.

The term “torch singer” originally emerged in the 1920s to describe the female artists who were at the forefront of the torch song movement. Their ability to capture the essence of unrequited love and the complexities of romantic relationships earned them this fitting title.

Some notable torch singers of the era include Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, and Edith Piaf, who, through their voices and tragic personal experiences, brought torch songs to life.


The historical context surrounding the phrase “carry a torch for someone” sheds light on its origins and significance. Born in the vibrant and dynamic 1920s, the phrase found its place in the lexicon alongside the rise of torch songs and torch singers.

These melancholic melodies provided an outlet for the expression of intricate emotions associated with unrequited love. As torch songs gained popularity, the phrase “carry a torch” came to symbolize the enduring flame of affection amidst heartache and rejection.

The torchbearer’s unwavering hope for reciprocation and reconciliation resonated deeply with audiences of the time, who found solace in knowing that their experiences of unfulfilled love were not unique. Today, the phrase “carry a torch for someone” continues to evoke a sense of longing and perseverance, reminding us of the power and complexity of human emotions.

As we delve into the historical and cultural background of this captivating phrase, we gain a deeper appreciation for its profound impact, both then and now.

Usage Examples

Examples of using “carry a torch for someone” in sentences

To fully understand the phrase “carry a torch for someone,” let’s explore some examples of how it can be used in sentences:

1. Despite her rejection, he continues to carry a torch for her, hoping that one day she will realize his unwavering love.

2. She has carried a torch for him ever since they parted ways, unable to let go of the memories they once shared.

3. It’s clear that he still carries a torch for his high school sweetheart, as he can’t seem to move on from their failed romance.

4. Even after all these years, she finds herself carrying a torch for the one who got away, reminiscing about what could have been.

5. He knew it was time to move on, but the flame of his unrequited love still burned within him, carrying a torch that refused to be extinguished.

By using the phrase “carry a torch for someone” in these sentences, we can see how it conveys the enduring love and longing that persists despite the absence of reciprocation. It captures the essence of unrequited emotions and the powerful hold that unfulfilled love can have on an individual.

Examples of Torch Songs and Torch Singers

To better understand the emotional impact of torch songs, let’s explore a few examples:

1. “Gloomy Sunday” by Billie Holiday: This hauntingly beautiful song, known as the “Hungarian Suicide Song,” embodies the sorrow and despair of unfulfilled love.

Billie Holiday’s emotive vocals and poignant delivery make this torch song a masterpiece of melancholy. 2.

“Someone to Watch Over Me” by Ella Fitzgerald: Ella Fitzgerald’s rendition of this classic torch song captures the yearning for a love that seems just out of reach. The vulnerability and longing in her voice transport listeners into a world of unrequited affection.

3. “La Vie en Rose” by Edith Piaf: This iconic torch song, sung by the legendary Edith Piaf, is a testament to the enduring power of love.

With her passionate vocals, Piaf evokes a sense of hope and optimism in the face of heartache. 4.

“Cry Me a River” by Julie London: Julie London’s sultry and smoky voice brings this torch song to life, expressing the pain and anger of a broken heart. Her captivating performance leaves an unforgettable impression on listeners.

5. “All by Myself” by Eric Carmen: Written and performed by Eric Carmen, this torch song explores the depths of loneliness and longing after the end of a relationship.

Its heartfelt lyrics and powerful melody strike a chord with anyone who has experienced unrequited love. These examples of torch songs and the talented torch singers who brought them to life demonstrate the ability of music to convey the raw emotions associated with unrequited love.

The evocative lyrics and soulful performances of these torch songs continue to captivate listeners, reminding them of the universal experience of carrying a torch for someone.


The usage examples provided demonstrate the versatility of the phrase “carry a torch for someone” in conveying the enduring longing and unrequited love that individuals experience. Through these sentences, we gain insight into the emotional depth behind the phrase and its ability to encapsulate the complexities of human affection.

Additionally, exploring examples of torch songs and torch singers further highlights the power of music in expressing and connecting with these emotions. From the haunting melodies of Billie Holiday and Edith Piaf to the soulful performances of Ella Fitzgerald and Julie London, torch songs continue to resonate with audiences, providing a cathartic outlet for those carrying a torch.

As we immerse ourselves in the world of torch songs and delve into the usage examples of “carry a torch for someone,” we come to appreciate the universal themes of longing, heartbreak, and hope. These examples serve as a testament to the enduring appeal and significance of the phrase and its ability to evoke profound emotions within us all.

In conclusion, the phrase “carry a torch for someone” holds a deep meaning that stems from its origins in torch songs and torch singers of the 1920s. This expression signifies the enduring flame of love amidst heartache and rejection, capturing the complexities of unrequited affection.

Through its usage examples and exploration of torch songs, we see the power of music in conveying the raw emotions associated with carrying a torch. This topic serves as a reminder of the universal experiences of longing, heartbreak, and hope that connect us all.

So, the next time you hear someone mention they “carry a torch for someone,” remember the depth of their emotions and the undying flame of love that continues to burn within them.

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