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As the title says, I've heard two possible meanings for turning down the air conditioning: It could mean set the target temperature lower (i.e. colder) or make it work less (i.e. warmer).

Turning down the heat makes it colder, but both meanings are in agreement there.

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Would the downvoter care to comment? –  Bobson Feb 13 '13 at 20:11
I'm not the downvoter, but this question shows little prior research. –  American Luke Feb 13 '13 at 22:42
(slightly off topic) this question reminds me of this: quickmeme.com/meme/3rysx6 –  Matt Feb 13 '13 at 22:43
The phrase is ambiguous. –  Wayfaring Stranger Dec 9 '13 at 8:32
It is way too ambiguous. It can mean make it colder or warmer. I use this expression but I always have to clarify what I mean. –  Revlis Lain 10 hours ago

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

It's common to use "turn down" for any variable device, to mean reduce it's power.

And with a dial like this:enter image description here

Then it would be easy to see "L" as down relative to "M", and so on.

However, with a thermostat-based control like this:enter image description here

Then it would be easy to see "20°C" as down relative to "25°C", especially since the button you press to go from 25 to 20 is an arrow pointing down.

However, if the air-conditioner was noisy, then you'd get a decrease in volume that would match the metaphor of down better than up.

If you combine heating and air-conditioning in the same control, then it would be even easier to see it that way. However, some such controls (some on car air-cons) give a visually stronger impression at either extreme.

Those with separate controls for degree of cooling (or heating when combined) and fan-speed would complicate this further, but the fan at least would probably be seen as up when blowing more air.

So, in all, it would most often be taken that "turning down the air conditioning" makes it warmer, but you will not be guaranteed it is taken that way, especially with thermostat-based controls governing a quiet air-con unit.

In both cases up and down are metaphors in all such senses. They normally serve us well, and it's certainly easier to say "turn the volume up" than "adjust the television so that its amplification of the audio output is greater", or even "make the television louder". It's clear what we mean in "the temperature is well up into the 30s" (or if we don't the issue is with Celsius vs Fahrenheit, rather than up). Combining both will inevitably have some room for disagreement.

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Nice thorough answer. Thanks! That's been bothering me for years... –  Bobson Feb 13 '13 at 20:12
Your welcome. Though since my answer does include the fact that people won't all agree, now that'll bother you instead... –  Jon Hanna Feb 13 '13 at 20:30
True, that... At least I know which one is "standard", though. –  Bobson Feb 13 '13 at 20:39

When you say turn down the AC you are referring to the AC unit. In this context I think adjusting the power of the AC unit would be the scale. Thus turning the scale up, as in higher power, would be a lower temp.

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Turn down the thermostat or crank up the AC to make it colder.

I would take the statement to mean "turn down the power to the air conditioner" and would probably opt for the fan settings first off before clarifying what temperature setting the speaker wanted if it was one of those two dial things in a hotel.

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Generally I'd say turning it down was moving it towards a more neutral temperature, or lowering the power of it. So, if it was sending out cool air, turning it down would be changing it a little warmer than it was previously, whereas if it were sending out warm air, turning it down would change it's output temperature to a cooler state.

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