sweetness and light


Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Acronyms, Wikipedia.

sweetness and light

Ostentatious amiability and friendliness, as in One day she has a temper tantrum, the next day she's all sweetness and light. This phrase was coined by Jonathan Swift in his Battle of the Books (1704), where it referred literally to the products of bees: honey and light from beeswax candles. But in Matthew Arnold's Culture and Anarchy (1869), the term meant "beauty and intelligence." In the 20th century, however, it was applied to personal qualities of friendliness and courtesy and to the general pleasantness of a situation, as in Working with him isn't all sweetness and light, you know. Today it is generally used ironically, indicating lack of trust in a person's seeming friendliness or for a difficult situation.
See also: and, light, sweetness
References in periodicals archive ?
This cloaking of a hateful and quite non-Christian combativeness under the guise of enthusiasm is precisely what Arnold finds objectionable in the motto of the Nonconformist journal--"The Dissidence of Dissent and the Protestation of the Protestant religion"--which he quotes with this sarcastic observation upon it: "There is sweetness and light, and an ideal of complete harmonious human perfection
Arnold sees culture as providing man with the proper perspective needed: pursuit of sweetness and light enables one to see that while an extremist tendency like dissenting Protestantism may be in some ways beneficial, it also has its attendant mischiefs.
Arnold believed that this pursuit would lead to just the opposite, for he maintained that culture meant not only the zeal to discover sweetness and light but also "the passion for making them prevail.
Of course, behind this enthusiastic conviction in the powers of culture lies the fear that impelled Arnold to write Culture and Anarchy in the first place, the fear that if the pursuit of sweetness and light is abandoned, society may collapse into an anarchical condition of class conflict.
I'm not saying we want something that's all sweetness and light.