Printable Version
Pronunciation: laim-lait Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: 1. Spotlight, an intense white light produced by burning lime (not limes), once used in lighthouses and theaters. 2. The focus of public attention.

Notes: The second meaning above most often occurs with definite article the, as 'to be in the limelight'. We cannot be in 'a limelight', though it may be used as a mass noun without an article at all: 'Derek enjoys limelight'. This compound has no derivational relatives.

In Play: If an article is used with this word, it usually is the definite article the: "Robin Banks did not enjoy the limelight thrown on his financial dealings." However, we may use it without any article: "Politicians who do not like limelight are doomed to a limited tenure in office."

Word History: Limelights were originally used in lighthouses and later for the Victorian stage. Like spotlights today, they illuminated the leading actors to draw attention to them, hence the figurative use of the phrase 'in the limelight' in the sense of "the focus center of attention". Lime comes from Old English lim "sticky substance, birdlime" from Proto-Germanic leimaz, source also of Danish lim, Dutch lijm, German Leim "birdlime". All these words come down from the PIE root (s)lei- "slime, slimy" + a suffix -m. Without the Fickle S, the same PIE word produced Latin limus "slime, mud" and linere "to smear". With the Fickle S it evolved into English slime. (Let's now shine the limelight on Rob Towart for recommending today's surprisingly Good Word.)

Dr. Goodword,

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