Green’s Dictionary of Slang

lightning n.

1. (also liquid lightning) gin.

[UK]G. Parker Life’s Painter 137: Come, we’ll go over and give you a noggin of lightening.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue (3rd edn).
[UK]G. Andrewes Dict. Sl. and Cant.
[UK]P. Egan Key to the Picture of the Fancy going to a Fight 9: The Coster Monger illumines his ideas with ‘a flash of lightning’.
[UK]Egan Grose’s Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]Swell’s Night Guide 124/2: Lightning, gin.
[UK]E. de la Bédollière Londres et les Anglais 316/1: lightning, du genièvre.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.

2. (Aus./US, also blue lightning, lightning juice, liquid lightning, sheet lightning) whisky or any form of cheap spirits or strong liquor; also attrib.

[US]N.Y. Herald 7 Jan. 4/3: The ‘Five Points lightning’ – that being a very bad kind of liquor dealt out in that vicinity.
[US]Manchester Spy (NH) 17 May n.p.: The irish can sell ‘sheet lightning’ and ‘blue ruin’ every day in the week.
Calif. Spirit of Times 7 Aug. 1/4: Having in his possession a few kegs of liquid lightning upon which he was avariciously desirous of reaping a speedy profit [DA].
[US]N.E. Police Gaz. (Boston, MA) 18 Aug. 8/4: [of illicitly distilled rum] [T]o inform the thirsty waiting souls that their ‘lightning’ was ‘in quod’.
J. Thomas How to Mix Drinks Preface 4: The Connecticut ‘eye-openers’ and ‘Alabama fog-cutters,’ together with the ‘lightning-smashes’ and the ‘thunderbolt-cocktails,’ created a profound sensation in the crowd.
Border Sentinel (Mound City, KS) 12 Jan. 3/1: Took another smile of lightning and went home.
‘Some Road Slang Terms’ in Malet Annals of the Road 395: 4. Of Coachmen A flash of lightning, a drop of short, or don’t stop to mix it...A glass of spirits neat.
[US]Chicago Street Gazette 1/5: Did you soak your feet in the old guy’s barrel of lightning.
[US]Highland Wkly News (Hillsboro, OH) 18 Apr. 2/3: If you want Bright’s disease, drink fusil oil whisky [...] if you want softening of the brain drink lightning whisky.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 10 Jan. 1/1: A Mulga mining man had a blue lightning time in a leading Perth pubbery.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 8 Aug. 15/1: For Jim’s thirst was a freakish thing – no matter how ’twas drenched / With tiger-snake or lightnin’ juice, it never yet was quenched.
F.R. Adams ‘There Are No Crooks’ in Munsey’s Mag. Nov. n.p.: ‘It is vile stuff,’ his host admitted. ‘I thought you wouldn’t be used to lightning.’.
[US]C. Himes ‘A Nigger’ in Coll. Stories (1990) 32: [S]itting around the table drinking burnt-sugar colored lightning.
[US]Sat. Eve. Post 30 Apr. 23/3: Believe I’ll have a slight stroke of that Old Lightning [DA].
[US] (ref. to 1920s–30s) Goldin et al. DAUL 125/2: Lightning. (Prohibition) Rotgut whiskey.
[US]T. Pluck ‘Summer of Blind Joe Death’ in Life During Wartime (2018) 160: [S]lumped in his crooked chair with an uncorked jug of lightning dangling from one finger.

3. (US) electricity; cites 1933, 2021 refer to an electric chair.

[US]‘Mark Twain’ Connecticut Yankee 561: Why not take the lightning off the outer fences, and give them a chance?
[US]C. Himes ‘His Last Day’ in Coll. Stories (1990) 292: ‘I never would feel just right taking the lightning ride if I thought that I’d had a chance to beat it’.
[US]T. Pluck Boy from County Hell 111: [He had] twice dodged the lightning in the now-retired Louisiana electric chair.

4. (US) a telegraph.

[UK]Newcastle Courant 16 Sept. 6/5: In the thieves argot his quarry had been ‘struck by lightning,’ or in ordinary language caught through the means of the telegraph.
A. Pinkerton Professional Thieves and the Detective 193: Corrupt manipulators of the ‘lightning’ grew rich.

5. (US drugs) amphetamine or crack cocaine.

[US]D.E. Miller Bk of Jargon 338: lightning: Amphetamine.
[US]ONDCP Street Terms 14: Lightning — Amphetamine.

In compounds

lightning crib (n.)

a gin shop.

[UK]New Sprees of London 3: I’ll introduce you to the [...] Lushing, Chanting, and Night-cribs, Bawdikens, Hells, Boosing, and Lightning-cribs, Mum- ming Caseys where you may doss, lush, or feed.
lightning jerker (n.) (also ...dodger, ...shover, ...slinger, ...squirter, ...wrestler) [the use of electricity in the telegraph system; jerker n.1 /slinger n.]

(US) a telegraph operator.

Great Trans-Continental Tourist’s Guide 47/2: [note] Morse is tho father of ‘Lighting-Shovers.’ On the plains Telegraph operators are called ‘Lightning Shovers’.
Pennsylvania School Jrnl June 404/2: Cerebro-spinal meningitis is a tough word for telegraphers [...] A Sioux City lightning-jerker wrote it out ‘Carabo Spencer’s Menagerie’.
Frank Leslie’s Popular Mthly 9 465: Twas ’leven ’clock near Bridger's Gap, / In a station that swayed in the tempest’s sweep, / Where a lightning-jerker enjoyed his nap, / When a call from the canyon broke his sleep.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 17 Jan. 13/3: By all means, let us send a representative to the Berlin telegraphic conference, and let his chief instructions be to belt open the heads of his brother savants and steal their brains, for brains are apparently what our own lightning wrestlers stand most in need of at the present day.
[Aus]Dead Bird (Sydney) 26 Apr. 2/2: The following little incident occurred in a suburban telegraph office [...] [T]he lightning-dodger’s face expanded, his smile knocked the quill out of his ear [etc].
[US]McLure’s Mag. 12 307: Why, Mr. Hebron, I’d rather see a scab run her than that lightning-jerker.
[Aus]H. Lawson ‘The Hero of Redclay’ Over the Sliprails 39: The banker, the storekeeper, [...] the postmaster, and his toady, the lightning squirter, were the scrub-aristocracy.
[Aus]Stephens & O’Brien Materials for a Dict. of Aus. Sl. [unpub. ms.] 98: LIGHTNING JERKER OR SQUIRTER: nickname for telegraph operators.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 27 Mar. 3rd sect. 17/6: Andy Mortel! [...] is the latest addition to the ranks of Kalgoorlie telegraph-operators. [...] A practised lightning-jerker and a thoroughly competent officer is Andy.
[US]L. Beebe High Iron 222: Lightning slinger: Telegrapher.
[Aus]Baker Aus. Lang. 249: Lightning jerker or lightning squirter, a telegraph operator.
[US]Monteleone Criminal Sl. (rev. edn) 145: lightning slinger A telegraph operator.
lightning juice (n.)

see sense 2 above.

lightning water (n.)

(US) strong whisky.

in Leach Texan 22: I [...] can swoller a Lake Superior o’ lightnin’ water, meanin’ whiskey, in a superior fashion [HDAS].
[US]D. Wells Night People 96: One thing about Ol’ Man Ignorant Oil, alias Bug Juice, alias John Barleycorn, alias Lightning Water, alias Red Eye, alias Fire Water — he sends you lots of messages.

In phrases

chain lightning (n.) [SE chain lightning, lightning that moves rapidly in a forked or zigzag course]

1. (US) misery, punishment, hell.

[US]R.B. Marcy Thirty Years of Army Life 404: Them Britishers must a’ fit better thar than they did down to Horleans, whar Old Hickry gin um the forkedest sort o’ chain-lightnin’.

2. potato spirit [the image is of immediacy and strength of the spirit’s effect].

[UK]F. Whymper Travel and Adventure in Alaska 102: Ranging from Cognac to raw vodka, of a class which can only be described by a Californian term as ‘chain lightning’.
[UK]Sporting Times 20 Sept. 7/2: Drink plentiful [...] ‘Congo,’ ‘Cape Smoke,’ ‘Chained Lightning,’ ‘Boer Brandy’.
[UK]Daily News 22 Dec. in Ware (1909) 69/1: On telling him the charge he exclaimed, ‘It’s all nonsense; I only gave her some chain-lightning,’ which he understood to be some foreign spirit.
[UK]J. Ware Passing Eng. of the Victorian Era 69/1: Chain lightning (L. Class, Lond.) Potato spirit, imported from Germany. Filthy mess — poisonous to a degree. Smuggled chiefly.

3. (orig. US, also chained lightning) strong, if cheap, whisky [the image is of immediacy and strength of the spirit’s effect].

[US]J.C. Neal Charcoal Sketches (1865) 66: Rail-Road Stone Fence chain lightning & other choice Likkers.
[US]Bartlett Dict. Americanisms 208: Many and very singular names have been given to the various compounds or mixtures of spirituous liquors and wines, served up in fashionable bar-rooms in the United States. The following list is taken from one advertisement: [...] Chain-lightning.
Santa Barbara Gazette 29 Jan. 4/3: The drinks ain’t no good here — there ain’t no variety in them, neither; no white-nose, apple-jack, stone-wall, chain-lightning, rail-road, hailstorm [DA].
[US]T. Haliburton Season Ticket 9: They ain’t no compounds here, no mint juleps [...] phlegm cutters, chain lightening, or sudden death.
[UK]Bristol Mercury 19 Apr. 6/4: A man I had known [...] was ‘dead beat’ trying to live on ‘Rotgut’ whiskey or ‘chained lightning’ without eating anything.
L.C. D’Oyle in Cornhill Mag. Jan. 51: It was variously called for as tangle-foot, snake-poison, [...] chain-lightning, or other fancy name, but it was never called for as whisky [DA].
[Aus]Crowe Aus. Sl. Dict. 16: Chain Lightning, bad liquor, said to kill a mile off.
D’Oyle Notches 8: ‘Fine Old Rye Whisky’ [...] was the [...] title which Old Hank was wont to affix to his bottle of ‘Chain-lightning’ [DA].
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 15 July 1/5: Don’t I light up your horizon / With my chain-o’-lightning pizen!
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 10 Nov. 14/2: The doctor, three parts full of chain-lightning, handed over the detached knee-caps, asking ‘What for you want ’em, Mary?’.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 16 Aug. 10/3: The black bung sells chain-lightning spirits.
[NZ]‘Anzac’ On the Anzac Trail 77: [W]hisky that takes the lining of your throat down with it [...] a soothing liquid that licks ‘forty-rod,’ ‘chained lightning,’ or ‘Cape smoke’ to the back of creation.
[Aus]R.H. Knyvett ‘Over There’ with the Australians 28: There was many a bushman who had never seen a city before who carried a load of liquor that made even his well-seasoned head spin. The ‘chain lightning’ of the bush was outclassed with the cinematograph whiskey of the city.
[US]Wood & Goddard Dict. Amer. Sl. 11: chained lightning. White mule; southern mountain whiskey.
[Aus]Townsville Daily Bull. 20 Jan. 2/5: One pack horse was loaded with a decent supply of ‘chain lightning’.

4. an exceptionally able person.

[US]J. O’Connor Wanderings of a Vagabond 408: Cheat! Cheat is no name for it! Why, he’s double chainlightning at it; he’s cleaned out all the gamblers in Georgia and South Carolina.
[US]M.D. Landon Eli Perkins: Thirty Years of Wit 295: I’m a howler from the prairies of the West [...] I’m chain-lightning; if I ain’t, may I be blessed.
‘Mark Twain’ Stories 456: By jiminy! But he’s chain-lightning!
flash of lightning (n.) (also flash) [SE flash + play on SE]

1. a glass of gin.

[UK]G. Parker Life’s Painter 139: A flash of lightning next, / Bess tipt each cull and frow, sir, / Ere they to church did pad, / To have it christen’d Joe, sir.
[UK]Sporting Mag. Oct. XVII 34/2: A very handsome libation of that fashionable liquor called flashes of lightning!
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]‘One of the Fancy’ Tom Crib’s Memorial to Congress 21: In that truly classical song, the Christening of Little Joey: ‘When Domine had nam’d the Kid [...] A flash of lightning was prepared / For every one that lik’d it’.
[UK]‘An Amateur’ Real Life in London I 394: The Donkey-driver and the Fish-fag are bang-up for a flash of lightning, to illumine their ideas.
[UK]Lytton Paul Clifford II 112: The thunders of eloquence being hushed, flashes of lightning, or, as the vulgar say, ‘glasses of gin’, gleamed about.
[UK]Bell’s Wkly Messenger 11 Dec. 398/1: Mary wouldn’t take a flash of lightning—port-wine negus with nutmeg, that’s the go—or, perhaps, the veather’s very cold, a little rum and cinnamon.
[UK]T.E. Wilks John Smith I ii: Sometimes we have [...] some heavy or a flash of lightning.
[Aus]Australasian Chron. (Sydney) 19 July 2/1: On all max, lush, and lightning’s flash, the many wax too prolix.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open.
[UK]Kendal Mercury 3 Apr. 6/2: A thrum of wins (threepence), and a meg for some sulphur and a flash of lightning (glass of gin).
[UK]Kendal Mercury 17 Apr. 6/1: Vat vill ye have? — Flash, I suppose.
[Ind]Delhi Sketch Bk 1 Aug. 87/2: Well, says Selwyn, it is not after all so very wonderful a thing for a flash of lightning to follow heavy wet!!!
[Ind]Delhi Sketch Bk 1 Oct. 126/1: ‘What’s the odds,’ said the young improvident, draining off a tumbler of flash, ‘the Governor will stump up’.
[UK](con. 1840s–50s) H. Mayhew London Labour and London Poor I 160/1: He would [...] express his desire to add to its comforting influence the stimulant of a ‘flash of lightning’.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict.
[UK]A. Lloyd ‘The American Drinks’ in Comic Songs 13: There’s stone-fence, a rattlesnake, a renovator, locomotive [...] a flash of lightning.
[UK]Sheffield Eve. Teleg. 14 July 2/2: In a book [...] ‘American and Other Drinks’ we find [...] the ‘Flash of Lightning,’ the ‘Nerver,’ the ‘Livener,’ and the ‘Locomotive’.
[UK]C. Hindley Vocab. and Gloss. in True Hist. of Tom and Jerry 174: Flash of Lightning. A glass of gin.
[Scot]Eve. Teleg. (Dundee) 1 Sept. 3/6: The language of the London East-end pub [...] ‘Flash o’ lightning’ — A glassful of gin.

2. brandy.

[UK]Observer (London) 29 Nov. 4/3: Copious draughts of daffy, with occasional flashes of Gallic lightning.
streak of lightning (n.)


[UK]C. Mackay Life and Liberty I 169: ‘Gin-sling,’ ‘brandy-smash,’ ‘a streak of lightning,’ ‘whisky-skin,’ ‘mint-julep’ [...] are but a few of the names of the drinks .

SE in slang uses

In compounds

lightning rod (n.) [rod n. (1)]

(Irish) a penis.

[Ire]J.B. Keane Letters of Irish Parish Priest 47: There he was with one hand resting on the wall in front of him and the other holding his lightning rod. I did not wait to see whether he was piddling or showing off.

In phrases

blue lightning (n.) [the flash when a bullet is fired]

(US, Western) a revolver, a six-gun.

[US] ‘South-Western Sl.’ in Overland Monthly (CA) Aug. 126: Among the names of revolvers I remember the following: Meat in the Pot, Blue Lightning, Peacemaker, Mr. Speaker, Black-eyed Susan, Pill-box, My Unconverted Friend.
[US]R.F. Adams Cowboy Lingo 166: The cowboy’s names for his gun were legion [...] ‘blue-lightnin.’.