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chain lightning n, also attrib

Also chained lightningchiefly Northeast, West

1 Lightning that moves rapidly in a forked or zigzag course; often fig: something that moves at great speed.

  • 1834 Davis Letters Downing 37 NY, I’m goin there like a streek of chain-lightning.
  • 1872 Schele de Vere Americanisms 451, Chain-lightning, the Western term for “forked lightning,” is generally rendered more redundant by being changed into chained lightning.
  • 1879 Taylor Summer-Savory 109 wNY, One of those darting spiders that outlines chain-lightning has you by the nape of the neck.
  • 1905 DN 3.5 cCT, Chained lightning. . . Forked lightning.
  • 1910 DN 3.439 wNY, Chain lightning. . . In such sentences as: “He’s quicker than chain lightning,”i.e., remarkably quick.
  • 1918 Mulford Man from Bar-20 141 (DA), He’s dangerous, chain-lightnin’ with his guns.
  • 1930 Stoney–Shelby Black Genesis 154 seSC, Dere came a crackle o’ chainlightnin’ close by dem, an’ a great roll o’ t’under.

2 Strong, usu inferior liquor.[In ref to its powerful and rapid effect]

  • 1843 (1846) Haliburton Attaché (1st ser) 1.262, The drinks ain’t good here; they hante no variety in them nother; no white-nose, apple-jack, stone-wall, chain-lightning, rail-road.
  • 1867 Lowell Biglow 15 ‘Upcountry’ MA, I know ye ez I know the smell of ole chain-lightnin’ whiskey.
  • 1878 Appletons’ Jrl. 5.416 West, Western people . . prefer to call whiskey corn-juice. . . And when they go farther and call it chain-lightning, they vividly set forth the style of its working.
  • 1942 Berrey–Van den Bark Amer. Slang 99.8, Strong liquor. . . chain(ed) lightning (esp. strong whiskey).