Embraced by the "lite"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Jun 17 13:18:29 UTC 2001

I was trying to track down some background information (first cites,
development of special sense and grammar) of "lite", and in
particular the metaphorical extension from commercial contexts
("Miller Lite") to rhetorical ("the Bush administration is
essentially Reagan lite").  The latter often occurs in postnominal
use, but not necessarily.  What surprised me was that the RHHDAS
evidently doesn't consider "lite" to count as American slang and the
OED (including on-line) doesn't list "lite" as a separate entry at
all (although it does contain an archaic variant of "light" with this
spelling and under "light" I was delighted to find an instance of
"light beer" in the low-in-alcohol sense from over a millennium ago--

LIGHT [adj. 1], 10
Of food or drink: That does not lie heavy on the stomach; easy of
digestion. Of wine, beer, etc.: Containing little alcohol.

      C. 1000 Ags. Voc. in Wr.-W├╝lcker 282/6 Melle dulci, leoht beor.


As for LITE itself, AHD4 provides a perfectly serviceable definition
and a lovely cite--

Having less substance or weight or fewer calories than something else: "lite
music, shimmering on the surface and squishy soft at the core" (Mother Jones).
ETYMOLOGY:  Alteration of light2

--but it's a bit skimpy for my purposes, especially since it doesn't
give any dates or word order variation (lite X vs. X lite).   I tried
to track down early cites on Nexis, but ran out of patience since the
vast majority involve product names, and I'm looking for the ordinary
language use.  If the AHD is right in considering "lite" (as in "lite
music" and presumably "Reagan lite") to be slang, why doesn't the
HDAS agree?


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