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"A Lightning Rod"

Posted by Dirk on May 05, 2003

In Reply to: "A Lightning Rod" posted by ESC 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.

: Kudos, never thought about it before.