"light bulbs began to go off"

Jonathan Lighter wuxxmupp2000 at YAHOO.COM
Sat Jan 29 22:45:17 UTC 2005

Not old enough, Allan!  Or not lowbrow enough!  It has long, long been common practice for cartoonists to show a bulb lighting up in a thought balloon to represent a "bright" idea.
I once saw these caqrtoon bulbs referred to specifically as "Mazda bulbs," but never bothered to probe why this brand was specified.

The cartoonists may have gotten the idea from elsewhere - maybe even a lightbulb advertisement.


AAllan at AOL.COM wrote:

---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
Sender: American Dialect Society
Poster: AAllan at AOL.COM
Subject: "light bulbs began to go off"

I noted this expression in the comment of a Boston doctor on NPR's Morning
Edition January 19, meaning that a bright idea came along. But lights going off
(as opposed to on) doesn't make sense to me.

Found half a dozen other examples by googling, including:

<<"The loss of speech, the melancholy, the behavioral problems that go along
with mercury toxicity were identical to what Will was exhibiting and that's
when I guess the light bulb went off," Redwood said.

The light bulbs began to go off in the minds of other Georgia parents, as
well, whose children were also diagnosed with autism.>>

There are almost 14,000 Google hits for "light bulb went off," like this one:

<knitting for the 2 color socks!!! I really ...>>

I'm old enough to think this metaphor comes from flash bulbs going off. But
there are few Google examples of that.

- Allan Metcalf

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