"white lightning (non-drug)-- needs an OED entry?

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Tue May 13 00:24:44 UTC 2014

The only instances of "white lightning" in the OED are for (a)
inferior or illicitly distilled whisky; or (b) a kind of LSD.

Do the following two meanings deserve inclusion?  Or are they simply
combinations of a color adjective with the noun "lightning" (see the
1833 quotation below)?

1)  A type of the visible electrical discharge:

(1a)  1684:

"Of Lightning, [fulmen] there are three sorts, viz. piercing,
{Terebrans], dashing in pieces [disentiens] and burning {urens]
Piercing Lightning (which is also called white Lightning,) does
consists of a most Subtile and thin exhalation and is very penetrating."

(Brackets and no period after "[urens]" in this transcription.)

1684  Noadiah Russell  Cambridge ephemeris. _An almanack ... for the
year of the Christian aera, 1684 : ... Calculated for the meridian of
Cambridg in N. England, lat. 42 degr. about 30 min. long. 315
degr._  [page unknown.].  Article titled "Concerning Lightning, and
Thunder, with some Observations and Cautions touching the same".

Text from _The Puritans: A Sourcebook of their Writings, ed. Perry
Miller and Thomas H. Johnson, revised edition (New York: Harper
Torchbooks), vol. 2, p. 745.

Also in Early American Imprints.

1b):  1833

"The appearances were very similar to those of the destructive hail
storm, which occurred here in the same month, and on the same day of
the month, and nearly at the same time of the day in 1809: sheets of
blue and white lightning came in quick succession, with an almost
continual rolling of thunder."

1833 Luke Howard  _The Climate of London, Deduced from Meteorological
Observations, Made in the Metropolis ..._  (London:  Harvey and
Darton), vol. 2, p. 177.  GBooks, full view.

2)   Light emitted by a shooting star


"The weather in the afternoon had turned out rather unfavourable, and
we expected a rainy, windy night, yet every now and then, the stars
appeared, and while we were amused by a sudden flash of light, not
much inferior in brightness to what is called white lightning,
occasioned by a shooting star, all on a sudden, a crash was heard ..."

1818  C. I. Latrobe  _Journal of a Visit to South Africa, in 1815 and
1816 ..._ (New-York: James Eastburn and Co.), p. 177.  GBooks, full view.

(I read this as saying the "flashes", presumably lightning, were
similar to the trails of shooting stars, which is called "white
lightning".  So this is an additional sense to (1) above.)


I did not see any earlier instances in GBooks than the 1818 and 1833.


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