What is the meaning of the phrase "badly lit" in the following scene from the TV series Columbo (emphasis mine):

[Set in a court of law. Prosecution is attempting to prove their client was injured falling down some stairs because they did not have adequate lighting.]

Prosecution Lawyer: The plaintiff alleges the stairs were badly lit.

Defence Lawyer: Although the plaintiff may well have been!

(Laughter all around)

It seems from the context that the phrase is being used to mean "drunk". If so, is this a common use. I've certainly never heard it before.

  • In grabbing references for my answer, I realized this is a general reference question.
    – yoozer8
    Oct 7, 2011 at 14:29
  • Why do you think that Jim? It's certainly not blindingly obvious. Unless of course I'd just never heard it because it's an American phrase.
    – Urbycoz
    Oct 7, 2011 at 14:35
  • 1
    @Urbycoz 'General reference' doesn't mean obvious, it means you can answer the question easily by googling it. I don't think that fits in this case because there is the pun to explain.
    – Jeremy
    Oct 7, 2011 at 14:38
  • @Jeremy Ok, but I did Google the phrase "badly lit", and saw no mentions of an interpretation meaning "drunk". google.co.uk/…
    – Urbycoz
    Oct 7, 2011 at 14:56
  • 1
    @Jeremy (and others who make this same mistake), "general reference" doesn't mean "you can answer the question easily by googling it"!! It means "you can easily find the answer in a reference work designed to answer that type of question" - a dictionary for a word meaning, a thesaurus for synonyms, an etymological dictionary for word/phrase origins.
    – Marthaª
    Oct 7, 2011 at 17:06

2 Answers 2


Lit is the past tense of light. It means that the stairs did not have good lighting (or more specifically, the person who set up the lighting on the stairs did a bad job.)

The joke is a pun that comes from the fact that lit or lit up can also mean drunk.

  • 1
    It also encorporates the word "badly". It means "not very well" when refering to the actual lighting, and "in extreme" when refering to the drunkenness.
    – Urbycoz
    Oct 10, 2011 at 10:03

It is sometimes used to mean drunk or intoxicated, defined here.

: affected by alcohol : drunk

It is also sometimes used to describe someone as under the influence of marijuanaref.

  • 1
    ...or harder drugs. Take the Buckcherry song Lit Up, which explicitly mentions Cocaine.
    – T.E.D.
    Oct 7, 2011 at 19:26

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.