Many of our common expressions have outlived the circumstances inspiring their coinage. For example, “beat around the bush,” referring to indirect or evasive conversation, arose from 14th and 15th century fowling, when “beaters” flushed game birds from their hiding places, so that hunters could capture the birds in flight. Those who “beat the bushes” never engaged in the actual hunt.

“All balled up, confused, disoriented,” may allude to the packed balls of sticky snow on horses’ feet which caused the animals to stumble and fall, sending riders and sledges into disarray.

In the limelight, meaning “in the center of public attention” is also a phrase surviving its original intention. In 1826, Scottish engineer and inventor Thomas Drummond devised the “Drummond light” to illuminate lighthouses. His invention consisted of flame directed against a block of calcium oxide, commonly called “quicklime,” as well a lens to focus the light. The illumination resulting from this admixture was startlingly, intensely bright.

Drummond’s technology was adapted for theatrical lighting in the mid 1800’s, and before the advent of electricity, was the most effective method for illuminating onstage performers.

Drummond’s calcium oxide or “lime” light threw performers into the full glare of audience scrutiny. Though this technology became obsolete with the invention of modern stage lighting, we carry the expression in the limelight with us into the 21st century.