[Ads-l] "Ride the lightning" = tase

Bonnie Taylor-Blake b.taylorblake at GMAIL.COM
Mon Apr 12 13:40:45 UTC 2021

Some of you may have seen the really terrifying footage of a young (black)
Army lieutenant confronted by police in a December, 2020 traffic stop in
Windsor, Virginia. (The case has only now come to national attention with
the filing of a complaint.)


The NPR piece mentions that,


The murder threat, the complaint claims, comes from [police officer]
Gutierrez's comment that [driver] Nazario was fixing to "ride the
lightning" — a colloquial expression for execution that refers to death by
electric chair.

In the police report, Gutierrez indicates that he threatened to use his
Taser on Nazario. Nazario's lawyer, Jonathan Arthur, told NPR that even if
Gutierrez meant to refer to using a Taser on Nazario when he talked about
riding the lightning, he said, the video "leaves little doubt" that he also
"meant and intended every word of the implicit meaning."


OED indeed has "ride the lightning" as an idiom for execution by electric
chair and holds that it dates back to 1932.

I see, however, that urbandictionary.com has as its second meaning (after
execution by electric chair),

"A slang phrase used by police to refer to the use of a Taser against an

A usage example is,

"If you ever hear a police officer ask if you want to "Ride the Lightning,"
you'd better start cooperating."

This new usage was submitted at the end of 2007, but may be older.

So, perhaps it's time for the OED to enlarge its definition.

But the whole thing, including the police jargon, is disturbing.

-- Bonnie

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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