Embraced by the "lite"

Jesse Sheidlower jester at PANIX.COM
Mon Jun 18 17:37:47 UTC 2001

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

Good example of begging the question, Larry. Obviously if the AHD is
right in considering "lite" to be slang, than the HDAS is wrong to
omit it.

I certainly don't think that the general use, as a spelling variant of
_light_ in any of several senses, is slang. The postnominal use is
arguably slang; I don't think it is and neither did Lighter, though we
looked at a very large batch of citations for it when in the L's on
HDAS, but perhaps one could make a case. Others have noted that of the
various other dictionaries that include "lite," only AHD4 regards it
as slang, though RHW I think calls it "informal".

OED, for its part, will be including it as a separate entry, not just
as a spelling variant (since the "lite" spelling signals particular
semantic information, we'd regard it as a different word). The draft
entry we have now gives a few different senses, including a noun use,
with cites to 1955; an adjective in the sense 'easy to perform or
accomplish' (in "lite work" in a job description); an adjective in the
sense 'Designating a manufactured product that is lighter (in various
senses) than the ordinary variety', from 1962; and the sense I assume
you're interested in, 'Designating a simplified or moderated version
of something; (dismissively) lacking in substance; over-simplified;
facile', which is labelled as "U.S. colloq." (an accurate label in
my view) and goes back to 1989, though this is a rough draft with no
research done and I'm sure this could be bettered.


Jesse Sheidlower

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