Do you like thunderstorms? I always used to like them, especially their approach. The dark cloud masses accumulating until they are darkening the entire sky, the sudden silence of Nature, the first sheet lightning, rumbling thunder somewhere in the distance, and then the first “real” lightning, a Blitz. This Germanism has made it into the English language for historical reason, and I’ll come to that later. But in its very original it doesn’t mean anything else but lightning. Composer Johann Strauss even celebrated thunder and lightning with the polka “Unter Blitz und Donner” – you might know it; if not, here is the link.
There are quite a few idioms in the German language that refer to the speed of lightning. Somebody is “Schnell wie der Blitz” (pronounce shnall vee dair blits, meaning as fast as lightning), or “wie ein geölter Blitz” (pronounce vee ine ga-‘earl-tah blits, meaning like some oiled lightning), the latter being quite nonsensical, of course. Who has ever heard of oiling lightning?! “Wie ein Blitz aus heiterem Himmel” (pronounce vee ine blits ous ‘hite-tah-ram Himmel, meaning like lightning from a blue sky) describes a situation of utter surprise. The idiom “wie vom Blitz getroffen” (pronounce vee fomm blits ge-troffn, meaning as if hit by lightning) describes the effect of surprise on a person. “Blitzgescheit” (pronounce ‘blits-ga-‘shite, meaning clever as lightning) might make no sense literally, but it refers to the speed of thinking or the brightness of a person. And the exclamation “Potz Blitz!” is – if a little outdated -the expression for wonder and surprise.
There is a special shape of lightning that, entrapped by itself becomes the phenomenon of a kugelblitz, (pronounce ‘koogle-blits, meaning ball lightning). It also became the nickname of a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun used in World War II as well as – much more peacefully – of former Brazilian soccer striker Aílton Gonçalves da Silva (thank you, Wikipedia). I always knew it as a nickname for obese but very agile people – I never used it, though, as I didn’t really think it was endearing OR kind.
So, you get the picture – the term blitz refers to speed more than to brightness of light in the German language. Any institution using it in its name or logo refers to being more than timely. The German car brand Opel uses a zigzag symbol in its logo. So does the Tampa Bay Lightning ice hockey team.
Of course, we all know the term Blitzkrieg (pronounce blits-creek, meaning lightning war) when referring to a massive military concentration that attacks in full force, backed up by the moment of surprise. The term describes a kind of warfare that Germany used during WW II and was created by the Western media in such an intense way that it has been attached to this kind of tactics ever since. Apparently, the word was never widely used in Germany and even disdained by the military and strategical leaders as not suitable as a description for any military operations. Today, historians mostly refer to the German WW II aerial attacks on Britain as The Blitz.
There is even a cartoon superhero called The Blitz; another character is called Baron von Blitzschlag (pronounced fonn blits-shlug, meaning lightning strike). There is blitz chess, which limits the game time for players. Blitzing in American football games is the defense tactic to attack a player by a higher number of players than usual in order to disrupt a pass attempt. Rugby uses a similar tactic, by the way.
In the end, “blitz” always refers to something powerful and fast. Potz Blitz! Who’d have thunk it?!