Highlighted and Greenlit

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A reader encountered the question of what past ending to use with the verb to highlight as in “to mark text with a highlighter” or “to cause something, such as text or an icon, to be displayed in a way that stands out on an electronic screen, as of a computer or smartphone.”

I recently forwarded an emailed newsletter to my daughter. Wishing to bring her attention to one paragraph within the text, I used the highlight function in my email editor (Outlook).

I then wrote, “Do you want me to go ahead as per the highlit section below?” assuming the past tense/particle of “light” in “highlight” would be “lit”. It seems not. According to Wiktionary “highlit” is “used with less than three percent of the frequency of “highlighted” in books.

Intrigued, I pursued not only the past tense of highlight, but also that of other common verbs ending with –light. I began with the root word, light, “to set fire to” and the like.

For the past forms, M-W gives “lit or lighted.” OED gives “lighted, lit.”

The Ngram Viewer shows lit steadily rising from the 1950s to the present, registering far more frequently than lighted.

As the reader learned, highlit is infrequent compared to highlighted.

The OED gives the past form highlighted first, followed by highlit. M-W gives only highlighted as the past inflection. The form highlit doesn’t even show on the Ngram Viewer. Nevertheless, the reader is in good company.

David Crystal, a world authority on the English language, uses the form highlit in his preface to the second edition of English as a Global Language, Cambridge University Press, 2003:

By the end of the decade, the different attitudes had highlit a number of important theoretical issues . . .

Other than to highlight, two other verbs ending with
light have variant –lit forms:

alight (to descend, fall, or land)
OED gives alighted, alit for the past forms. M-W gives “alighted also alit.” The alit form is not common. The fraze.it site gives 83 examples for alighted to only five for alit.

green-light (give approval to go ahead with a plan)

Both OED and M-W show the verb with a hyphen. OED gives unhyphenated past tense forms greenlighted, greenlit. M-W puts the verb green-light at the bottom of the noun entry for green light, labeling it only as “other words from green light. However, elsewhere on the dictionary site, the editors provide an article called “What’s the Past Tense of ‘Green-light?’”

According to this article, green-lighted was the preferred form in the last century. The Ngram Viewer shows greenlighted dropping and being overtaken by greenlit in 2006.

Fraze.it shows an almost perfect usage split with 45 examples for greenlighted and 47 results for greenlit. The greenlighted form may be more common in the context of general and business news sources, whereas greenlit is found in references to entertainment and tech subjects.

Settlements with federal regulators are almost always greenlighted by judges.—LA Times

It also greenlighted two massive but long-delayed steel expansion projects.—Business Week

There is also no evidence the US greenlighted Saddam.—Economist

Sources cautioned that the project is not officially greenlit, and no cast is yet set.—Variety

The U.S. greenlit Google’s deal with Motorola, prompting the smartphone maker to move into hardware.—Forbes

It sounds to me that this has been greenlit because it’s an instant franchise if it works, and there’s a built in fan base, but I’m confused as to what Herzog thinks he’ll get out of it.—The Guardian

NOTE on gaslit: The past tense of the verb to gaslight (manipulate into questioning one’s sanity) is gaslighted. There is a word gaslit, but it is an adjective referring to something illuminated by means of literal gaslight.

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