Mark Twain's famous use

Posted by R. Berg on February 16, 2003

In Reply to: Light out and ride posted by masakim on February 16, 2003

: : Recently, I was searching lyrics to a Mark Knopfler tune called "Camerado" and found the line "light out and ride" misquoted frequently. I understood the phrase to mean "get going", "get out of here fast" or "leave quickly". I have a sense that I may have heard this from old "B" westerns I watched as a kid in the fifties. I suspect it may have something to do with bandits around a campfire that would have a posse come up on them and they would kill the light of the fire, mount up on their horses and scatter in all directions. Or possibly, blowing out a latern after saddling up in a barn and riding out.
: : If you have ideas or have knowledge of the origin or meaning of this phrase, I would appreciate hearing them.

: light out v phr by 1870 To leave, esp hastily; = TAKE OFF, HIGHTAIL: "Jack, estranged from his father by his brother's death in a helicopter crash, lights out for the
: territories" -New York Times
: This allusion to Huck Finn is not quite accurate. Mark Twain wrote "the territory" [fr earlier nautical _light out_, "move out, or move something out," of obscure origin; perhaps "move or move something lightly, quickly, handily"]
: From Dictionary of American Slang by Robert L. Chapman
: ----------
: Leaving the guard, the General had brought with him to protect the train, we mounted and "lit out," as rapid locomotion is called in that locality. (D.B.R. Keim, _Sheridan's Troopers on the Border_, 1870)

"Light out for the territory" has become a cliché because the last sentence of "Huckleberry Finn" is "But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before."