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[lahyt-ning] /ˈlaɪt nɪŋ/
a brilliant electric spark discharge in the atmosphere, occurring within a thundercloud, between clouds, or between a cloud and the ground.
verb (used without object), lightninged, lightning.
to emit a flash or flashes of lightning (often used impersonally with it as subject):
If it starts to lightning, we'd better go inside.
of, relating to, or resembling lightning, especially in regard to speed of movement:
lightning flashes; lightning speed.
Origin of lightning
1350-1400; Middle English, variant of lightening. See lighten1, -ing1
Can be confused
lightening, lightning. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for lightning
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • Then it was rain, wind, obscureness of gloom, and lightning.

  • It seems literally to fly over the ground with the speed of lightning.

    The Western World W.H.G. Kingston
  • This lightning was silent; the noise of the thunder did not reach Geneva.

    Thunder and Lightning Camille Flammarion
  • When Nan made up her mind, she acted with lightning rapidity.

    The Root of Evil Thomas Dixon
  • A thunderstorm occurred in the evening, and Mrs. Roach, a schoolmistress at Wroxham, was killed by lightning.

    Norfolk Annals Charles Mackie
British Dictionary definitions for lightning


a flash of light in the sky, occurring during a thunderstorm and caused by a discharge of electricity, either between clouds or between a cloud and the earth related adjectives fulgurous fulminous
(modifier) fast and sudden: a lightning raid
Word Origin
C14: variant of lightening
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for lightning

late 13c., present participle of lightnen "make bright," extended form of Old English lihting, from leht (see light (n.)). Meaning "cheap, raw whiskey" is attested from 1781, also sometimes "gin." Lightning bug is attested from 1778. Lightning rod from 1790.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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lightning in Science

A flash of light in the sky caused by an electrical discharge between clouds or between a cloud and the Earth's surface. The flash heats the air and usually causes thunder. Lightning may appear as a jagged streak, as a bright sheet, or in rare cases, as a glowing red ball.

Our Living Language  : As storm clouds develop, the temperature at the top of the cloud becomes much cooler than that at the bottom. For reasons that scientists still do not understand, this temperature difference results in the accumulation of negatively charged particles near the base and positively charged particles near the top of the storm cloud. The negatively charged particles repel the electrons of atoms in nearby objects, such as the bases of other storm clouds or tall objects on the ground. Consequently, these nearby objects take on a positive charge. The difference in charge, or voltage, builds until an electric current starts to flow between the objects along a pathway of charged atoms in the air. The current flow heats up the air to such a degree that it glows, generating lightning. Initially, a bolt of lightning carrying a negative charge darts from one storm cloud to another or from a storm cloud to the ground, leaving the bottom of the cloud with a positive charge. In response, a second bolt (reverse lightning) shoots in the opposite direction (from the other storm cloud or the ground) as the mass of negative charges on it moves back to neutralize the positive charge on the bottom of the first cloud. The heat generated by the lightning causes the air to expand, in turn creating very large sound waves, or thunder.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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lightning in Culture

lightning definition

An electrical discharge from clouds that have acquired an electrical charge, usually occurring during storms. (See thunder.)

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Slang definitions & phrases for lightning



Cheap, raw whiskey; white lightning (1781+)

Related Terms

chain lightning, greased lightning, ride the lightning, white lightning

The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.
Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.
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Idioms and Phrases with lightning


In addition to the idiom beginning with
The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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