So I’m watching the morning news
yesterday and there’s Donny Osmond, didn’t we all dream of being Mrs. Donny?
Anyway he used the phrase “It scares the living daylights out of me!” and I started to wonder exactly what this meant.
What are the living daylights?
Inquiring minds need to know!
Well here is what I found.
"Daylights" is very old slang for the human eyes, dating back to at least the early 18th century. This makes a certain amount of sense, since the eyes are the "source" of all the light we see. And the practice of equating the eyes with lights or windows is very old: one Latin word for "eye" was "lumen," which literally meant "light."
"To beat (or scare) the daylights" out of someone therefore, originally meant to beat or frighten someone so badly that the person's eyes, at least figuratively, popped out. "Daylights" was also used in an extended sense in this context to mean any vital organ or consciousness itself, so to beat or scare "the daylights out of" someone could just as well mean to pummel or frighten the victim into unconsciousness.
Anybody in the mood for a weird coincidence? It turns out that there is another kind of "light" in the human body. The word "daylight," of course, refers to the kind of "light" you can see. The other English word "light" (meaning "not heavy") is completely unrelated, but it comes from the same source as the word "lung," and human lungs used to be called "the lights" (because lungs, being full of air, are not as heavy as other organs). In fact, the lungs and other internal organs of animals are still referred to as "the lights" in England, and in "Huckleberry Finn," Mark Twain wrote of scaring "the liver and lights out of" someone. But since the "daylight" kind of light and the "not heavy" kind of light came from two different sources, the fact that you can "beat the daylights" out of someone by punching him in "the lights" is just a linguistic coincidence.
Now I know!