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 is capable of reaching speeds up to 70 mph! After seeing a cheetah run, someone might describe its high speed by saying it is as fast as greased lightning.

Note: The words “as fast as” or “as quick as” often come just before this expression, like in the example above.

1. In the blink of an eye
2. Lickety-split
3. 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 around 670,000,000 mph (1,078,260,480 kph).

Okay, so lightning is fast, but what does grease have to do with that? Well, lubricants like oil and grease are used to make machinery run smoother and faster. So the idea here is that grease is being figuratively applied to lightning in order to make it go even faster!

Now 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 can type on his computer at blazing speeds; his fingers move across the keyboard as fast as greased lightning.
  • When my teacher explains things in class, sometimes he talks as quick as greased lightning and I have trouble following what he says.

Similar Examples:

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

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