Though the expression lightning rod has a literal meaning, it is also a well-known idiom. 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)