Greased Lightning – Meaning and Origin


The phrase greased lightning is used to describe things that are fast.

Example: The cheetah is the fastest land animal on earth. It’s capable of reaching speeds up to 70 mph. After seeing a cheetah run, you could describe its speed by saying they are as fast as greased lightning.

Synonyms/Related: lickety-split, in the blink of an eye, on the double

The Idiom: Greased Lightning

The Origin Of “Greased Lightning”

What’s the idea behind the idiom “greased lightning”? Well, lightning has a reputation for being fast. According to The Measure of Things, a lightning bolt can travel around 217,000 mph (349,000 kph). While that speed is impressive, some people think that lightning travels at the same speed as light, but that isn’t true. For comparison, light travels at about 670,000,000 mph (1,078,260,480 kph).

So where does grease come into the picture? Well, lubricants like oil and grease are used to make machinery run smoother and faster. So the idea, then, is that lightning is being made even faster due to the application of grease.

Anyways, let’s talk about how old this phrase is. The earliest I could find it in print is in the 1830s. For example, the expression is used in an English newspaper called The Boston, Lincoln, Louth & Spalding Herald, January, 1833:

“He spoke as quick as ‘greased lightning.’ “

Sentence Examples

  • My roommate is writing in essay that’s due to tomorrow. I can tell he’s in a hurry because his fingers are moving across the keyboard as fast as greased lightning!
  • Sometimes, my teacher speaks as quick as greased lightning and I have trouble understanding what he’s saying.

Related Examples:

  • I’ll be ready to go lickety-split, I just have to throw my coat.
  • What happened? The match was over in the blink of an eye.

Note: Know Your Phrase has the meaning of hundreds of sayings. Did you know, though, that an expression’s origin is not always clear? Indeed, and in cases like that, what I’ll do is either include an explanation as to how an expression originated, or, if I don’t do that, I’ll try to at least include a quote on the page of the earliest known citation of a phrase being used. These quotes are to give you an idea for how old a saying is.

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