Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Lighted vs. Lit: Illuminating the Sky for 4th of July

light·ed (adj) having light or illumination; bright. From Old English lēoht, meaning illuminated, with ties to noun forms in German (licht), Latin (lūx) and Greek (leukós).

I'm not sure when a Chinese tradition became synonymous with American independence, but fireworks reign supreme in DC on the 4th of July, and everyone scrambles to find the best seat in the house. After plans fell through for going to the National Mall with out-of-town guests, I was planning on meeting up with some friends at my office to head to the roof for a stellar view over the Potomic River. But that went bust when my parking pass failed to open the garage after hours. Instead, we crashed my friend Gordon's party where he promised spectacular views of all the fireworks shows in DC and Maryland. Only things didn't quite turn out as planned.

Almost an hour before the National Mall show was scheduled to start, the horizon began lighting up with fireworks from Gaithersburg, Rockville, Germantown, Kensington, Takoma Park, College Park, Six Flags America and Bowie. I'm not sure where we could see them all from, but it was a line of fire stretching for miles. When we could hear the boom came from across the river, we knew the national show had begun. Looking out to the monuments we saw...nothing. Absolutely nothing! Directly in our line of sight, the only high-rise building between us and the Mall stood haloed in multicolored hues of the fireworks we were supposed to be enjoying.

lit (v) a simple past tense and past participle of light. From same origins as lighted. Also (adj) under the influence of liquor or narcotics; intoxicated (usually followed by up). From early 20th century American slang. Also (n) abbreviation of literature. From the Latin litterātūra, meaning grammar.

As we left Gordon's place, one of his friends began admiring a display case by the door. They were talking about how nice it would look "lit up." Of course I had to laugh and say, "I'm sure everything looks cooler when lit." Not understanding what I was talking about (because apparently an IT guy and an architect don't find the same humor in words as I do), I explained the difference between lit as a verb and lit as an adjective. And them, being good friends and nerds of the tech variety, laughed at my lit nerd joke.

So I missed the national fireworks this year, but at least I missed them in the company of some great people. And the well-lighted sky offered a backdrop for a very memorable night.

(Despite common belief that lit and lighted can be used interchangeably, with lit being more informal, that isn't true. While lighted can be used as the past participial for light, lit used as an adjective is always slang for being intoxicated.)

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