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Last Updated: Thursday, 31 August 2006, 11:23 GMT 12:23 UK
The meaning of 'lite'
By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

London Lite Newspaper
Lite makes the front page

It's plastered on everything from yoghurts to newspapers, but what does "lite" really mean?

To some it is a horrendous nugget of commercial drivel, but it's hard to walk into a shop these days without being bombarded with it and the capital's latest free newspaper has seen fit to take it for a title.

The meaning of "lite" - according to the Oxford English Dictionary - is something low-fat or low-sugar. But, it is now applied to much more than just food, with the likes of Nintendo using it to brand a product.

"Lite" has been around for years but has had a resurgence in popularity in recent years, says Jonathan Gabay, author of the Copywriter's Compendium - a reference guide to the English language.

Friendly

"Lite is a knock on from 'nite', which became popular in the 1950s. It has been around since the 1980s, but has re-emerged recently as the size of loads of products - like laptops and mobile phones - have got smaller. In today's society small is now big."

Re-packaging and shortening words is all part of the marketing industry's plan to appeal to the consumer.

"The aim is to make the word more colloquial, more friendly and appeal to as many people as possible," says Mr Gabay."

Nintendo DS Lite
Nintendo DS Lite
Globalisation has also fuelled the popularity of the word. As products go worldwide, words that most people understand - whatever language they speak - are in demand, of which "lite" is one. It saves companies the expense of re-packaging goods.

But the rise of the word - and others like it - are often blamed for the decline in British spelling by language wardens such as Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots & Leaves. An argument that is not accepted by everyone.

"Language is always evolving, that's what makes it so wonderful," says Mr Gabay. "It is never what it used to be and what is used to be before that.

Tradition

"English is spoken by 750 million people in the world and 350 million have it as their second language, that is going to have some influence on it and change it."

What most do agree on is the popularity of words like "lite" is an example of the Americanisation of the English language, which has been going on for decades. Like the growth of "nite" - which came over the Atlantic in the 1950s - "lite" first started to appear in the 1980s.

Perhaps proof that such words are now an accepted part of our language is the fact London's new freesheet is called London Lite. It was launched this week by Associated Newspapers, which also publishes that bastion of tradition - the Daily Mail.

Not that long ago words such words would have been viewed as too American for any of the group's titles, now they are making it into names.


Inventing new words is fine and 'Lite' does a good job describing, in a non-foods marketing context, a no-frills version of an established product. It's just a shame when old words have their meanings corrupted and 'dumbed down'.
Kevin, Dartford, UK

To me 'lite' implies a pared-down version of the original (ie with most of whatever made it useful or tasty removed) which usually costs more than the real thing despite not being worth the bother.
mary, UK

This article answers its own question almost straight away - " horrendous nugget of commercial drivel". Nothing more need be said about it.
Simon, Manchester, UK

There is no decline in the English language if 'lite' is used in it's low-fat, reduced-sugar, no-frills sense, and does not get used to replace the main definitions of 'light' (god help us if lite starts streaming through my curtains in the morning!), then English has evolved and grown. Not to mention all the other uses of lite and light. As long as people use the most appropriate word, I'm sure everything's find with English
Gareth Welch, London

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