I was really wondering if this phrase is modern (post-electricity) or older than that. (musing) I was driving home one day last week and the sun was hitting a building I had not previously noticed in a spectacular way. The idiom came to my mind and got me thinking: if this was coined really long ago, then asking someone to "See things in a different light" would have implied "let some time pass" as well (with sun moving etc).

  • Hi Mircea, welcome to English Language & Usage. If you think you might use our site again (and I hope you do!), please make sure you take the Tour. :-) Aug 3, 2018 at 8:45
  • In addition to what @user070221 already quoted from etymonline. "spiritual illumination ... The figurative spiritual sense was in Old English; the sense of "mental illumination" is first recorded mid-15c."
    – Kris
    Aug 3, 2018 at 8:48
  • Before electricity, candles and oil lamps (each one emits a different type of light, I believe) were used in order to "see" where one was going. The concept of using "light" to mean "clarity" and "understanding" I think is pretty universal.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Aug 3, 2018 at 12:10

2 Answers 2


Figurative usage of "light" in that respect dates well before electricity. Light, on the other hand, has always existed. Early usage instances appear to draw on the religious metaphor of Light:

Meaning "a consideration which puts something in a certain view" (as in in light of) is from 1680s.


Early usage instances:

Religious Library, Volume 1 American Tract Society, 1671

  • A new light, in which things appear far otherwise than they did before.

The Trials of Sir. Geroge Wakeman 1709:

  • For the consideration is not, how it now appears to you or to me, who look upon it in a different Light, and on contrary Principles from theirs

Interesting question! I did a Google Ngram search and found a reference to

Papers of the Governors: 1681-1747 - Page 619

Pennsylvania. Governor, ‎George Edward Reed - 1681 - ‎Snippet view - ‎More editions

Your extraordinary manner of stating the Case would indeed set everything in a different Light; but while you can call your sending up about three hundred armed Men with Drum and Trumpet to terrify our Inhabitants by the name of levying of ...

  • I can see a reference on Google ngram dating back to 1587, but I don't understand how you traced your reference.
    – Strawberry
    Aug 3, 2018 at 15:52
  • @Strawberry I only searched for the words "different light". The earliest reference in print (from my limited search) seems to be the one I gave.
    – bookmanu
    Aug 3, 2018 at 16:13
  • Yes, but how do you find it from the ngram?
    – Strawberry
    Aug 3, 2018 at 16:14
  • @Strawberry once you've searched, there are some links at the bottom of the ngram. I clicked there and found the reference: books.google.com/ngrams/…
    – bookmanu
    Aug 3, 2018 at 16:17
  • Oh - it's obvious now you say it!! :-$
    – Strawberry
    Aug 3, 2018 at 16:24

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