Posted by TheFallen on March 07, 2003
In Reply to: "To light . . ." phrases posted by R. Berg on March 07, 2003
: : : : : : : Any idea as to the origin of the phrasal verb "to light into"? Thanks in advance for any help.
: : : : : : I'll have to research the origin. The meaning is to fight someone -- go at him/her with fists flying.
: : : : : : Agreed with ECS and not sure of origin, but of course, "to light out" has a different meaning, as in to leave, head out or depart in a hurry.
: : : : I wonder if there's a connection with "to light" in one of its more archaic senses, meaning to affect unexpectedly. It may be that, when you originally "lit into" someone, you were doing something unprovoked and unforeseen.
: : : I couldn't find that sense in the OED. "Light into" isn't there either.
: : This from the American Heritage Dictionary (and yes, the irony of the Brit's quoting from that august tome, as compared to Ms. Berg's quoting from the hallowed pages of the unsurpassed OED has not escaped me :):-
: : LIGHT.
: : INTRANSITIVE VERB: Inflected forms:
light·ed or lit ( lt), light·ing, lights
: : 1. To get down, as from a vehicle or horse; dismount.
: : 2. To descend to the ground after flight; land. 3. To come upon one unexpectedly: Misfortune lighted upon him.
: : 4. To come upon by chance or accident. Used with on or upon: lit on the perfect solution to the problem.
: : PHRASAL VERBS:
: : Light into Informal To attack verbally or physically; assail.
: : Light out Informal To leave hastily; run off.
: Oh, the OED has "to light on" as in the misfortune example, all right, but that isn't "to light into." The two phrases seem cognitively far apart. Misfortune lights on a person as a fly lights on a sandwich (here, I think, light = alight; = settle). That's pretty different from "light into," with its air of intrusive assault.
Fully granted as to the cognitive difference. I was idly groping for reasons as to why "to light into" should mean "to attack", and the "unexpected" connection was all that I could come up with.