The idioms pass the torch and hand on the torch came into use in the 1800s, though they have their roots in ancient Greece. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as kick the bucket, a dime a dozen, barking up the wrong tree, back to the drawing board and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the phrases pass the torch and hand on the torch, where these terms came from and some examples of their use in sentences.
To pass the torch or to hand on the torch means to hand over a job, responsibility, duty or knowledge to a successor. The idea is that one is going into a sort of retirement, or is ending a successful career. To pass the torch or hand on the torch involves trusting one’s successor to do as good a job or a better job than one has accomplished. Usually, one will pass the torch or hand on the torch to someone who has been groomed for the position. Pass the torch is generally the American version of the idiom, and hand on the torch is generally the British version of the idiom. The phrases pass the torch and hand on the torch have their origin in ancient Greece. While many associate the torch with the Olympic Games, in fact, the practice is an ancient Greek religious ritual. In ancient Olympia, a sacred flame was kept burning on the altar of Hestia in her temple during the ancient games. The flame was ignited by the high priestess using a ceremonial parabolic mirror to catch the rays of the sun. In Athens, a ceremonial torch was carried during the Panathenaia fest by a relay of torch runners between the altar of Prometheus and the altar of Athena. This ceremony eventually became a popular relay race, in which runners competed by carrying and passing burning torches. The Ancient Olympic Games did not involve a relay of torchbearers to light a cauldron at an opening ceremony. That tradition was added to the modern Olympic Games sponsored by Adolf Hitler in Berlin in 1936 and was the idea of Carl Diem. Today, the Olympics continue the tradition to ignite a flaming cauldron at the opening celebration that has been passed by many torchbearers across multiple countries. The Olympic flame begins in Olympia, Greece, and is carried by volunteers across many miles to the Olympic stadium in the host country. Some of the volunteers who participate may be past medal winners, Paralympic athletes, or heroes in other fields or people who have overcome great adversity. The Olympic torch is a symbol of perseverance in adversity, as well as friendship among all people. Related phrases are passes the torch, passed the torch, passing the torch, hands on the torch, handed on the torch, handing on the torch.
The two worked out an arrangement beneficial to both, and as of the first of the year, Dr. Jacobs will pass the torch along to Dr. Crow. (The Moulton Advertiser)
“So Kyle has had multiple players, young players in particular, over to his house with their significant others to shepherd them, share life, NFL experiences and then also I think begin to pass the torch.” (The Buffalo News)
The southpaw had to hand on the torch to Mushfiqur in 2011 after Bangladesh were beaten in Test and ODI series in Zimbabwe. (The Bangladesh News)