Lightning rod

  • Though the expression lightning rod has a literal meaning, it is also a well-known idiom. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, hit the nail on the head, kicked the bucket, blow off steam, piece of cake, hit the sack, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the meaning of the idiom lightning rod, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.


    The idiom lightning rod describes someone who attracts controversy, someone who attracts criticism or strong negative opinions or feelings. A lightning rod is a metal pole that is mounted on a tall building to attract lightning away from the building and channel it harmlessly into the ground through a metal wire. The lightning rod was invented in 1749 by Benjamin Franklin, and rudimentary lightning rods began to appear in the colonies. In British English, this apparatus is called a lightning conductor. The term lightning rod seems to have taken on an idiomatic meaning by the 1800s, describing someone who attracts controversy or criticism. Lightning rod is primarily an American idiom.



    But Crawford’s image has shifted in recent years: He has become a lightning rod for controversy. (The Colorado Sun)

    Eboué was a lightning rod for the drift that set in during the autumn of Wenger’s tenure and Xhaka is essentially the same for this indeterminate season of Emery’s time in charge. (The Guardian)

    In the past, I had often been yelled at by Sgt. Jackson, but that summer, Randall was the perfect lightning rod, drawing Jackson’s fury away from the rest of us. (The Washington Examiner)

    Until Tuesday, Ehlinger had been the official lightning rod of the Longhorn football program. (The Dallas Morning News)

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