• flash •
Pronunciation: flæsh • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, Verb, Adjective
Meaning: 1. A sudden, brief, intense burst of light. 2. A device capable of producing a short blaze of light such as can be found on a flash camera. 3. A sudden, brief, intense occurrence of any kind, as a flash of insight or a news flash, or a very brief period of time, a split second, as in: "I'll be there in a flash."
Notes: Flash comes with an adjective, flashy, whose meaning has shifted to "ostentatious", as a flashy outfit. That adjective produces a noun, flashiness, which has come to be another sense of flash itself, in "The show was all flash and no content."
In Play: Perhaps the most obvious flash is made by lightning: "In the flash of lightning Bob Wire saw that the man mugging him was actually holding a banana, not a gun." The most common idiom based on flash is flash in the pan, a person or thing which at first seems promising, but soon fizzles out: "Kaye Syrah was just a flash in the pan: she started at the top and had nowhere to go from there."
Word History: No one seems to know where this word came from—that leaves us free to speculate! The major dictionaries, such as the Oxford English Dictionary, claim it is of onomatopoetic origin, like plash and dash. The original meaning of the word was "splash", as in, "The sea . . . also flashed up unto his legs & knees" (Raphael Holinshed, The Chronicles of England, Scotlande, and Irelande, 1577). So sound imitation is a reasonable speculation. However, here is an instance where the blending of flame or flare with splash or dash is also reasonable. We are free to choose either speculation. (Let's hope Margaret Knapp's suggestion of today's excellent Good Word is no flash in the pan and that she returns with more of the same quality.)