From greased + lightning, believed to come from the observation that greased machinery tends to run faster, and the notion that if a lightning strike (the fastest normally observed movement) could be greased, it might move even faster. Originally US usage, but soon well known in UK due to Thackeray's use in 1848 (see cite).
- Something incredibly fast (now mainly used in comparison: like or faster than greased lightning).
1840, American Philosophical Society, Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society Held at Philadelphia for Promoting Useful Knowledge. Vol. XVIII. July 1878 to March 1880:
- We find there quite seriously the monstrous hyperboles of swallowing a camel, of having a wooden beam in the eye, of a camel's going through the eye of a needle, of heaping coals of fire on the head; all well enough as jokes, like the description of the Green Mountain road so steep that "greased lightning could not go down it without the breeching on".
- 1847-48, William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair, Chapter XIII
- He rode his own horse, Greased Lightning, and won the Garrison cup at Quebec races.
1922, James Joyce, Ulysses:
- And off he pops like greased lightning.
2006, Kerri Pomarolli, If I'm Waiting on God, Then What Am I Doing in a Christian Chatroom?: Confessions of a Do-It-Yourself Single:
- I got on that computer faster than greased lightning and sent him an email.
2006, Mike Lloyd, Only the Gods Decide:
- You have to take your hat off to them. They've moved like greased lightning. I should have remembered about them. Slippery as a 'barrel load of eels' they are.