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Shut the light
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New River, AZ, USA
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Emmett asked: What are your thoughts about rotation of mechanisms?

You make an interesting point about the axis of rotation relative to the operator of the mechanism. I’m sure that drives word choices in some   instances, but I doubt there’s any truly universal interpretation. There are just too many exceptions to your “axis of rotation” rule. For example, consider valves that control the flow of water (or other fluids). Your common outside water tap certainly follows that rule. But in many industrial applications, those valves can be oriented in pretty much any direction, and one would still literally “turn on” or “turn off” the flow. I’ve even seen wall mounted light dimmers that use a small disc, half of which protrudes above the surface of the switch plate, and this literally involves a turning motion on an axis NOT through the operator.

I’m convinced by previous responses in this thread that most of the current usage is driven by anachronistic origins, as Glenn observed.

We now have dimmer switches that require a sliding motion. Those can be operated with a single digit, but if the the operator finds it easier, or wants more precision, with thumb and finger. And some dimmers use a touch sensitive plate. In one instance I recall, when I was carrying something in both hands, I operated that dimmer with my elbow.

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This has been an en”light”ening discussion.  Thank you all.  

My father would often say to his children at bedtime: “OUTEN the lights!”.   I have no idea if he made this phrase up or heard it somewhere, but the meaning was clear.   Has anyone else heard it?

And  relative to  antiquated terminology, do not  most of us still dial a phone by pressing buttons?  

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I think we have to be careful about too narrow an interpretation of ‘turn’ when we talk about lights and other devices.

It’s turning cold.

Whose turn is it?

I turned 65 this summer.

That turns my stomach.

I turned to computer graphics when I retired.

While at the university he turned against violence.

Lots of folks turned out for the fundraiser.

I turned red when she said that.

I hope I don’t get turned into a frog.

The infield turned a double play in the top of the eighth inning.

None of these involves any sort of axis or literal rotation; they’re mostly a change of state. Metaphorical rotation, maybe, in most.

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Tromboniator is probably right about the very broad use of ‘turn’ for a change of state.   Seasons have been turning for a long time.

Before I heard the WTW piece on ‘turn off’, I wrote this blogpiece on switch terminology:


In the process I found an 1852 manual for telegraphers, instructing them to ‘turn on’ a selector switch.   At that time switches were brand new, familiar only to experimenters and professionals.   And if I’m not mistaken, gaslights weren’t common either.   So it’s clear that ‘turn’ has always been an available metaphor for anything that changes a condition.

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