On the show I was a bit suprised to find out people think "shut the light" is an unusual expression. I've used it all my life and no one has ever commented on it. I notice I use it a bit differently than "turn off the light". I would say "shut the light" when the result would be darkness, not meaning to turn off a desk lamp, for example. This is analogous to shut (off) the TV or the car, or the fan or the burner or the faucet. Maybe these are also unusual to people?
http://www.waywordradio.org/discussion/topics/shut-the-lights-a-regionalism-or-what/ is another thread on this topic.
I use "turn off" most. Now that's an anachronistic verb phrase! I would use "shut off" or "kill" (in some contexts) without thinking twice. I have heard "shut the light." I might have used it rarely, in a distracted moment.
For me, there are slightly different contexts for each of the phrases, while all are possible in any context. I would more likely use "turn off" when speaking of a single fixture or switch. "Turn off the light on the table." For multiple lights, I would more likely use "shut off." Shut off the living-room lights. To emphasize complete darkness only might I use "kill." "Kill the lights in the basement."
This got me thinking about the use of "turn" to describe controlling a light. Especially since the mechanical action is better described as "flip" or "toggle." And these days, with the new touch-sensitive controllers, perhaps "touch" or "tap" is a better description. And no … I don't want to include "clap."
Ngrams shows this interesting result for the phrase "turn off the light."
Makes me wonder if the use of "turn" dates to the time when kerosene and gas lamps started replacing candles for nighttime illumination. With those devices, one would literally "turn" a control to retract the wick or shut off the flow of gas. Of course, you couldn't "turn" the light on without the assistance of a flame.
Also, just to stay on topic, I never use the phrase "shut the light." Don't think I've ever even heard it before. Grew up in the Midwest, now living in Arizona.
This got me thinking about the use of "turn" to describe controlling a light.
That's why I said it was anachronistic. It appears that the use of turn for electricity dates back to 1800s. I feel confident that it relates to some turning motion at root, be it a wick key, a gas key, or a turning electrical switch.
More likely wick or gas keys, which were rotary. Turns out the first real electrical light switches were push-button affairs. I did not know that. So it seems the phrase "turn off the light" must indeed predate electrical lights.
Today, in one of my company's conference rooms, there was a printed sign: Please shut projector. Thank you.
Somebody had added the handwritten word "off" after "projector."[edit: added the following] Maybe it's just me, but I have several lamps that have rotary switches in the bulb socket, and some that have rotary switches on the cord. Now those are lights you can really turn on! In addition, there is the light in the refrigerator or in the car that comes on when you open the door. Now there's a light you can shut!
I neglected to mention that I do sometimes say "flip the light on (or off)." Does anyone else use this one? When I flip a light off, it is not nearly as rude as when I, perhaps commuting to work, flip a person off.
Back in my first job out of college, I had to write a set of instructions for people of various backgrounds to use a computer program. At the end of a sequence of characters, the impulse would have been to say "Hit the ENTER key", since that's the verb most of us used in conversation.
Then someone pointed out that while "hit" was fine for secretaries, clerks and accountants, it might encourage the miners and smelter workers to be a little too rough with the keyboard. A long discussion ensued about just how you should describe the action: "push" the key? "activate" it?
One suggestion was "depress the ENTER key". My response to this was to lean in very close to the keyboard and whisper softly "Nobody likes you!"
Ron Draney said: One suggestion was "depress the ENTER key". My response to this was to lean in very close to the keyboard and whisper softly "Nobody likes you!"
Hilarious! I once had to write an instruction manual for a robotics kit. Knowing that most of the users would be geeks gave me an advantage in language choices, but I opted to make it as clear as possible by using graphic "icons" to represent key stroke sequences. So when I needed to include an "enter" stroke, I literally used a small rectangle with the word ENTER in caps, just as it's seen on the keyboard.
Still, I ran into problems when it came to escape sequences or other multiple key combinations. Had to resort to a "definitions" page up front that explained things like "when the keys are to be pressed simultaneously, the key icons will be separated by a plus sign" and other such conventions. The word I chose for using a key was simply "press." I don't think anyone was confused by my manual. Images work better than words in such applications. Take a look at the owners manual for any modern graphing calculator. They all use key icons for key stroke sequences.
During the explanation about this Grant, Martha and the guest mused that turn of the light didn't make any sense.
It is my opinion having worked on old residential electrical systems it likely comes from oil lamps, Gas Lighting and from early days of electrical lighting.
The later oil lamps using a wick had a mechanism which you turned to raise and lower the wick.
Gas lamps had a valve you would turn
Early electric light switches where rotary
As you can clearly see there is a long long history of turning something to operate a lighting device.
For some data on regionalisms, in Indian English, these forms are the most common:
"On the light"/"Open the light"
"Off the light"/"Close the light"
(Note that "on" and "off" are being used as verbs in imperative form.)
When I've been in India, I heard these much more often than the usual American-style forms:
"Turn on the light"
"Turn off the light"/"Shut off the light."