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For as long as I can remember I've believed that the word alight could also be used to mean something like took flight, or took to the air. As in: "The bird alighted from the branch." Or: "His prayers alighted to heaven." Of course the normal usage is precisely the opposite: "The bird alighted onto the branch." But I always took this to be similar to how cleave usually means to split apart, but can also mean to come together in the right context.

Recently, I needed to use alight in this way, and on looking it up found no dictionary that supports such a usage. So while it's a little surreal to me, I'm starting to wonder if I've just been flat-out wrong about the word for however many decades. Is the word alight ever used in the above sense? If not, is there anything (an idiom, an archaic usage, etc.) that might explain where I got such a strong impression?

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  • You may be thinking of "aloft", though it's not generally used as a verb.
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 8 '21 at 13:19
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Most dictionaries give the following definition for "alight":

Descend from a train, bus, or other form of transport

As an adjective, "alight" is defined as--

On fire; burning

or

Shining brightly

Source: Oxford

In its archaic version, "alight" means to "come by chance."

Source: Merriam

As such, in your case, I think you may have just got the definition the other way around. "Alight" simply means "settle down" rather than "take off."

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  • This sums up the meaning. I think the OP might be confused: if you hear of someone alighting from a bus, you may thing "alight" refers to any case when you get off something no matter your destination (even into the air or water), but it really means the specific case where get down from a vehicle onto the ground.
    – Stuart F
    Sep 10 '20 at 12:48
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In broad terms,

  1. You alight from an earlier, (mainly) higher, original place (usually but not always, a form of transport) -> "He alighted from the bus." / "He alighted from the wall and ran towards the man."

and

  1. You alight onto [or on or upon] a (usually) lower destination -> He alighted onto the pavement.

From the OED updated (OED Third Edition, September 2012).

II. To descend, fall, or land. 2.a. intransitive. With from, off, †of. To get down from a horse, to dismount; to descend or get down from (or out of) any means of transport.

1997 ‘Q’ Deadmeat 274 A couple were alighting from a black cab.

(6. intransitive. With on, upon. To chance or light upon; to come across.

2003 Independent 1 Aug. (Review section) 2/3 A great amount of soul-searching goes on, until they alight on a solution.)

The idea of

†III. To ascend, spring up.

7. intransitive. With on, upon. To mount a horse.

1569 E. Fenton tr. P. Boaistuau Certaine Secrete Wonders Nature f. 6v The sayd Sapor..vsed hym as a stiroppe to alighte vpon hys horsse.

is marked as "Obsolete."

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