by Joanne Mason on May 1, 2013

In the limelight

We’re going to do something a little different today and look at a specific word rather than a phrase.

Yesterday, a reader named Laurie asked me about the word limelight. It’s a curious word for sure.

If you’re in the limelight, you’re the center of attention.

Example 1

Cassie is nervous about her upcoming wedding. She hates being in the limelight.

Example 2

Our stand-up comedian friend loves the limelight, but I wish he didn’t monopolize every party by trying out new material on unsuspecting guests.

On the surface, it seems like limelight must have something to do with lime (the material) or limes (the fruit).  And it turns out the former is true.

In the 1800s, the English inventor Sir Goldsworthy Gurney discovered that when he added lime to an oxyhydrogen flame, the result was an intense white light. Gurney was able to light his house with his invention and, later, lit the Houses of Parliament this way. Limelight was also used in lighthouses because it gave off much brighter light than the candles that were used at the time.

The invention of limelight is sometimes attributed to Thomas Drummond, a Scottish engineer, who found other ways to use it.  Limelight became popular in theaters in the 19th century because it could focus the audience’s attention in a specific direction. Thus, actors could be in the limelight.

What do you think about being in the limelight?  Do you like being the center of attention?  Or would you rather be in the background?

(Photo by aceshot via istockphoto)

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