Embraced by the "lite"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Sun Jun 17 15:56:44 UTC 2001

At 10:40 PM -0400 6/17/01, Douglas G. Wilson wrote:
>>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
>Random House: "an informal, simplified spelling of light ...".
>M-W (Web): "variant of light ...".
>To me "lite" seems better described as "spelling variant" or so than as
>The FDA treats "lite" as a spelling variant of "light" and the use in US
>food labeling is restricted the same regardless of the spelling AFAIK: for
>example (http://www.fda.gov/fdac/special/foodlabel/lite.html):
Right--I guess I'm not so concerned with FDA rulings, but as
mentioned in my earlier post with the ordinary language extension of
"lite" (which in this sense is not simply a spelling variant, since
it has its own lexical semantics which are not identical to those of
"light") in contexts like "Reagan lite", or to take some random exx
from google.com, "porn lite", "Hitler lite" (ref. to Joerg Haider),
"Honolulu lite", "Chomsky lite" (in a self-described "Chomsky-lite
stand-up" comic routine at the Edinburgh fringe), or as in the
example cited in the AHD4, "lite music".  None of these are innocent
respellings of "light", and all play off a particular piece of
cultural knowledge built in (via the earlier commercial uses) to what
is therefore a distinct lexical item (or spinoff, if you like) from
"light".  I do agree that it's not entirely clear whether "lite"
should be labeled slang, but I maintain it's not a spelling variant
of the type we have in honor/honour or through/thru.  It's a bit like
the center/centre, theater/theatre pairs we discussed a few months
ago, but I think the case is clearer that "lite" really is a distinct
item, and it's one whose meaning isn't captured by the RH or MW
entries above.


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