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"A Lightning Rod"

Posted by ESC on May 04, 2003

In Reply to: "A Lightning Rod" posted by Jerre Conder on May 04, 2003

: One often hears "lightning rod" in describing the attraction of vigorous or violent controversy, as in, for example, "His comments made him a lightning rod for all sorts of vitriolic invective . ". This is interesting only in that the expression derives from the widely held but erroneous belief that a lightning rod is a device designed to attract lightning - ostensibly thereby to save other, more valuable objects in the vicinity.

: In fact, a more opposite function obtains: The lightning rod actually drains off static electricity from the object it protects, making it unlikely that enough charge will accumulate to initiate a strike. Think of this: If a lightning rod truly attracted lightning, why on earth would you want to put it on top of your barn? Wouldn't it be better to place it off somewhere by itself - close but out of harm's way, where it could "attract" lightning without burning down the barn?

: So taken literally, the example above ("His comments .") should mean that the individual's comments served to "drain away" or render less likely all sorts of invective.

Interesting. That's what I assumed -- that the rod attracted lighting and then it was discharged harmlessly down a wire to the ground.