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date: 16 January 2021


The Oxford Dictionary of Word Origins

Julia Cresswell



Before electricity or gas lighting, theatres lit up important actors and scenes using limelight. This was an intense white light produced by heating up a piece of lime in a flame of combined oxygen and hydrogen, a process invented around 1825 by Captain T. Drummond of the Royal Engineers. From the end of the 19th century, as modern lighting ended the need for real limelight, the word came to be more common in the sense ‘the focus of public attention’.