Turn Off the Lights on Your Way Out

The headline is a non pre-sequitur, whatever the term for that is, but my subject is light, in a way anyway.

My penpal in Taiwan, who is also an English teacher and whose grammar (learned as a second language) is infinitely better than most native Americans, even college graduates, was perplexed when I used the phrase “[tag]lightbulb went off[/tag].”  She thought it should be “lightbulb came (or went) on.”  Made sense.

That got me thinking, so I scoured the Internet for about 10 minutes (figuring that was about all the subject was worth) to find the derivation of the phrase, but I failed.  The best I could conclude was that it derives from the days of those old flashbulbs that would definitely go off in a flash, thus leading to the phrase “lightbulb went off,” indicating a flash of realization.

Anybody got a better idea of the roots of the phrase?  If you do, please post a comment.

2 thoughts on “Turn Off the Lights on Your Way Out

  1. Name Withheld says:

    (Don’t ask me how I managed to stumble upon this website.) Pardon whatever inconsistencies my grammar may have in trivial details like spelling and so forth, I cannot help but notice logical errors in this post. When you mentioned the teacher “whose grammar (learned as a second language) is infinitely better than most native Americans, even college graduates,” shouldn’t you have said that her grammar was “infinitely better than _that of_ most Americans”? Otherwise, it would seem that you are making your comparison ambiguous.

    Also, a concurring explanation as to the origins of the phrase “lightbulb went off” (which I have never heard, honestly) could be that we compare it to other events that happen suddenly, such as alarms, fireworks, participants in a race, and so on. Anyway, I’d probably stick to the phrase “lightbulb came on” because it makes more sense.

  2. grammarblogger says:

    Good point there. Actually, I should’ve made Americans possessive, i.e., Americans’.

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