ligtning bolt / lightning flash / ray

Discussion in 'English Only' started by Guayete05, Nov 9, 2008.

  1. Guayete05

    Guayete05 Senior Member

    Gran Canaria - Islas Canarias - España
    Spanish - Spain - Canaries
    What do you think the difference among these expressions is?:
    - lightning bolt / bolt of lightning
    - lightning flash / flash of lightning
    - lightning streak / streak of lighning
    - ray

    Do you ever use the word "ray" to mean "a streak of lightning"? Is it very rare to use it as a synonym? as I haven't seen it quoted in any of the posts.

    Which of the above expressions sound less used to you?

    I don't quite understand the difference between "bolt" and "flash" in these cases. Would "flash" just refer to the brightness reflected on the sky or on the clouds and "bolt" mean the actual visible electrical discharge or beam / ray?
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2008
  2. cropje_jnr

    cropje_jnr Senior Member

    Canberra, Australia
    English - Australia
    A lightning bolt, bolt of lightning, flash of lightning, streak of lightning. These are all common, whereas I would not say "light flash" or "lightning streak".

    A "bolt" is probably the most common. Like a streak, it's long and thin (see here). A "flash" of lightning, by contrast, lights up the whole sky evenly.
  3. Waterdash Senior Member

    English (US)
    To add on to cropje jnr, a beam of lightning is the same thing as a bolt of lightning. And what kind of rays are you talking about?
  4. gasman Senior Member

    Canada, English
    Personally, I have never heard, or read, of a "ray" of lightning.
  5. Guayete05

    Guayete05 Senior Member

    Gran Canaria - Islas Canarias - España
    Spanish - Spain - Canaries
    Well, thank you for the answers,

    The thing is that in a text that I have been working with my students it said:
    "According to legend, the Greek god, Zeus, threw lightning bolts or flashes when he was angry... "

    and later on:

    "when the lightning travels from a cloud to the ground, we see a forked flash striking the land..."

    So, furthermore, the word ray isn't ever used to refer to these phenomena, is it? I think that sometimes I might be translating from my Spanish "rayo" into English.
  6. Aardvark01

    Aardvark01 Senior Member

    Midlands, England
    British English (Midlands)
    We do not say a 'ray' or a 'beam' of lightning because these are sustained and directed.
    The nature of lightning is sudden and unpredictable in terms of:
    1. time (when)
    2. duration (how long)
    3. source (where from)
    4. destination/direction (where to)
    5. distance (how far)

    A flash is sudden, a light going on and then off again.
    A bolt, unlike a beam or ray, is something that is metaphorically 'thrown', it has been 'released' from it's source to 'fly' or 'fall' out of control across the sky.

    In Germanic/Norse tradition, the equivalent to Zeus is Odin/Wotan/Wodanaz (hence: Wednesday) who throws a spear or bolt of lightning. He is a one eyed god which may be why the lightning does not always hit his intended target.
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2008
  7. Guayete05

    Guayete05 Senior Member

    Gran Canaria - Islas Canarias - España
    Spanish - Spain - Canaries
    Thanks to everyone for their replies, which have been very clear, although I still welcome any comments... especially on the text.
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2008

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