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What is a meaning of "Nothing's on"? I tried to find something on the internet and the results were like "nothing's on the radio" etc. I certainly understood the meaning of those sentences. But what does the sentence consisting only of these 3 words mean?

Nothing's on.

Thank you for the reply

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closed as unclear what you're asking by Matt Эллен, Andrew Leach, TrevorD, Mitch, Kristina Lopez Oct 17 '13 at 14:25

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

It depends entirely on context. (And it's two words) –  Andrew Leach Oct 17 '13 at 13:00
My brother, when asked "What's on the telly?", would usually reply "Dust." –  Brian Hooper Oct 17 '13 at 13:12
This question might be more suitable for English Language Learners. –  TrevorD Oct 17 '13 at 13:39
I will tell you exactly what "Nothing's on" means if you tell me exactly what "Go" means. –  RegDwigнt Oct 17 '13 at 17:36
Given the nothing is a pronoun, there's little point in trying to analyze the sentence by itself, absent other context. Pronouns depend on surrounding context to infer their meaning. –  J.R. Oct 21 '13 at 9:25

2 Answers 2

It is clearly related to the expression 'What's on?' If you log into a theatre website there will be a link entitled 'What's on'. Click on that and it will tell you everything they are staging over the next few weeks. There is a London 'What's on' guide to theatres. 'On' has just become entertainment shorthand for 'playing' or 'showing'. I'm not sure if the OED carries that meaning of 'on' but it probably does. So 'nothing's on' simply follows from that. Only it doesn't mean literally nothing, it means nothing worth watching.

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The answer to your question depends on the context in which "Nothing's on" is said.

At its most literal definition, it means that "Everything is off." More commonly it is used to express the poor quality of the programming choices available (on the TV or the Radio.)

One can imagine a teen aged boy sitting on the couch flipping through channels. He isn't able to find anything that appeals to him, so he utters the phrase "Nothing is on."

If we slide the context back about 80 years, we can picture a similar teen, on a similar couch, who is turning the dial on his radio. He too is unable to find anything that appeals to him, so he says "Nothing is on."

These usages are by far the most common in my experience as a native American English speaker, but the literal definition is used as well. Imagine an electrician is working on the main circuit box of a home. He has attempted to restore power to the home, and he wants to verify that his effort has been a success. He yells upstairs to his assistant, "How does it look up there?"

"Nothing's on!" His assistant hollers in response, and the electrician sighs and returns to his troubleshooting.

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A: It's on! B: No, it's not on A: it is ON! B: Nothing is on, leave me alone! :) –  Armen Ծիրունյան Oct 17 '13 at 13:29
I can imagine “Nothing is on” being spoken by a 1930s teenager … but I find it difficult to imagine a teenager today saying it. Semantically it's the same, of course, but I'd expect a 2013 teen to rather say, “There's nothing on”. –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 17 '13 at 17:29
To your point @JanusBahsJacquet I don't know that many teenagers in 2013 are watching TV. I suspect that the vast majority of them now resort to Hulu or some other service for their viewing experience, but perhaps that is just my own prejudice. Perhaps I should have hedged the context in 1990 to be more accurate. –  Lumberjack Oct 17 '13 at 17:38
Good point! “Moooom, there's nothing on YouTube today!” –  Janus Bahs Jacquet Oct 17 '13 at 17:47

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