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

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon Apr 12 18:22:50 UTC 2021

While searching I discovered that many horses were named "Lightning".

Here is some more information about the "electric chair" and "taser"
senses of the phrase.

JL's superlative "Random House Historical Dictionary of American
Slang, Volume 2: H to O" has an entry for "ride the lightning" on page
433. The first citation is dated 1935.

The impressive"Green’s Dictionary of Slang" (GDOS) has pertinent data:

[Begin excerpt]
ride the lightning (v.)
1. (US) to be executed in the electric chair.
    1925 [US] Black Mask Aug. III 61: You’ll ride for his murder
    1933 [US] C. Himes ‘His Last Day’ in Coll. Stories (1990) 292: He
[...] had returned in less than a year after his release to ride the
lightning in the hot-squat.

2. to be given a course of electro-convulsive therapy (ECT).
    2012 [UK] D. O’Donnell Locked Ward (2013) 87: Dr Bankstreet
decided to try ECT [...] riding the lightning, as we call it.
[End excerpt]

The 1925 citation supplied by GDOS does not contain the full phrase.

The Oxford English Dictionary has an entry with a 1932 citation for
the pertinent sense as noted by Bonnie:

[Begin excerpt]
ride, v.
Phrases P3. With reference to punishment.
d. U.S. slang to ride the lightning: to be executed in the electric chair.
1932   C. Himes His Last Day in Abbott's Monthly Nov. 33/1   Death row
at Big Meadows where he had..returned in less than a year after his
release to ride the lightning in the hot-squat.
[End excerpt]

Here is a 1931 citation for the "electric chair" sense.

Date: April 20, 1931
Newspaper: The Plain Speaker
Newspaper Location: Hazleton, Pennsylvania
Article: Last Move To Escape Chair
Quote Page 11, Column 8
Database: Newspapers.com

[Begin excerpt]
There are six men from the state who wish to escape "riding the
lightning" as the racketeers call death in the chair.
[End excerpt]

Below are two 2006 citations illustrating the taser sense of the phrase.

Date: February 01, 2006
Newspaper: The Times-News
Newspaper Location: Twin Falls, Idaho
Article: Police take ride on the lightning
Author: Bob Kirkpatrick (Times-News writer)
Quote Page 1, Column 2
Database: Newspapers.com

[Begin excerpt]
Police take ride on the lightning

Imagine getting hit by 50,000 volts of electricity. That's what
deputies with the Twin Falls County Sheriff's Office have at their
command with the new X26 Taser, and that's what Lt. Don Newman endured
Tuesday when he volunteered to be shocked during a training session.
[End excerpt]

Date: November 21, 2006
Newspaper: The Santa Fe New Mexican
Newspaper Location: Santa Fe, New Mexico
Article: Web Posting Excerpts
Quote Page A6, Column 5
Database: Newspapers.com

[Begin excerpt]
These messages were posted by SteveTensi13 on The Orange Mane Web site:
"I like to call it 'ride the lightning!' 50,000 volts of persuasion.
Do as I say or suffer the consequences," SteveTensi13 wrote about
Taser stun guns Nov. 16.
[End excerpt]

On Mon, Apr 12, 2021 at 9:40 AM Bonnie Taylor-Blake
<b.taylorblake at gmail.com> wrote:
> 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.)
> https://www.npr.org/2021/04/11/986271819/officer-who-handcuffed-and-pepper-sprayed-black-army-lieutenant-is-fired
> 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
> individual."
> 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

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

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