Lite query

Mon Sep 16 16:43:22 UTC 2002

        There was something of a vogue for "lite" in the 1980s.  "Light" products - those lighter in weight, caloric content, etc. - had been around for years, and "light beer" in particular goes back to c. 1000, according to the Oxford English Dictionary.  The spelling "lite" has also been around for several centuries.  In the period 1972 - 1976, Miller Brewing Company bought a "lite" trademark from Meister Brau (which had had it since 1967) and expanded sharply its advertising and sales under that name.  By the 1980s, both spellings were being applied to a wide variety of products, probably influenced by the success of the light beers and Miller Lite in particular.  For example, Hallmark began marketing a line of "lite" cards in 1982, describing them as "a third as serious as other greeting cards."

        The figurative use of "lite" was inevitable and seems to have been fairly widespread by 1988.  The earliest use I've seen is from the Washington Post on 10/14/84 (an antedate of the OED's 1989 figurative cite):  "If 'Breaking Hearts' is a sort of Elton Lite album - tasting great even as it's less filling - it's due to John's return to another old stance, namely, creating melodies that disregard Taupin's often gloomy missives."

John Baker

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