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If I want the room in darkness, and wish to announce my intent, I would say

I'm going to turn off the light.

But occasionally here in America I hear people say

I'm going to close the light.

It's happened too often to chalk up to mistake or happenstance. I'm just wondering if anyone knows if this is a regional usage and, if so, what region?

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I've heard "close the light" from non-native speakers from Israel and also from Europe but I can't recall which countries specifically. I think it's a translationism. –  hippietrail May 5 '11 at 2:17
    
It could originate from Chinese also. In Chinese, open and turn on are the same word, as well as close and turn off. So people whose first language is Chinese are likely to say open/close the light. –  user20480 Apr 24 '12 at 20:24

6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I found this from Wikipedia's entry for Canadian English in the section on Quebec's regionalisms:

It is also common for Anglophones to use translated French words instead of common English equivalents, such as "open" and "close" for "on" and "off", e.g. "Open the lights, please" for "Turn on the lights, please".

And then this from Yahoo Answers (Canada):

Q: Is the saying "close the light" proper english? Just wondering.

A: I teach English in Quebec and I hear it ALL THE TIME!!! It's a translation problem. This happens with French and Italian. -maybe other languages too.

[and further down]

A: Well Im Aussie and some of us say "close the light" as well so dont be too worried about it will you. There are those who will correct you but I think it really depends which school you went to and how your mum and dad said it.

There's also an interesting discussion on this at Ask Metafilter that seems to confirm the "Franglicism" theory.

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3  
In Italian, the correct way of saying it is spegni la luce, which the translation of turn off the light. Chiudi la luce, the translation of close the light is a regionalism, and not standard Italian. –  kiamlaluno Apr 16 '11 at 3:00
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@kiamlaluno: The same is true in French - standard French has allumer/éteindre la lumière, and while some people do say ouvrir/fermer it isn't considered 100% standard. –  psmears Apr 16 '11 at 8:56
    
I know many native Russian speakers who say "close the light", however, the Russian equivalent is "выключить свет" meaning "turn off the light"; I am not aware of any Russian regionalism that uses "close". Perhaps it also is attributable to the fact that the word "close" is a simple, single verb, whereas "turn off" is a more complex word sequence? –  ESultanik Jun 12 '11 at 12:03
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It's translation. In French, you say fermer la lumière, in Italian chiudere la luce. I grew up in an Italian family and Italian neighbourhood, and though we only ever spoke English, I grew up saying "close the lights". It wasn't till my twenties when I moved to another area that people started telling me it was improper English. However, I've never been able to break the habit. –  user24655 Aug 8 '12 at 17:03
    
@user24655 In both French and Italian, there is an equivalent to turn on/off (allumer/éteindre, accendere/spegnere). You might say fermer or chiudere, but you would be making a mistake :-) –  Kostas Oct 12 '13 at 15:51

Here in California it's associated with a pidgin-Hawaiian. "Pio the light" somehow morphed into "close the light." And, weirdly enough, seems to have traveled around. My older sister, who has never been to Hawaii, uses it. No one else in the family does.

Not to inject too many family drama into the discussion, but I've always associated the phrase with the proudly under-educated sort.

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Is it perhaps a carryover from gas lights (before electricity)? Back then, to make it dark, you had to "turn off" or "close" the gas valve.

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Could be, who knows? Or there was perhaps some kind of blind to cover the window in an oil lamp through which the light would shine? –  Cerberus Mar 15 '12 at 11:25

Open the light...close the light is considered a New Jersey-ism. I grew up in Hillsdale, New Jersey, a comfortable suburb of NYC, and learned from my parents to say open/close the light.

When I was 10 years old we moved to Upstate New York (only a little more than an hour north). People looked at me like I had three heads when I would say open/close the light. I noticed that people up there would say turn on/ turn off the light. As an adult I lived in NYC, and I never heard anyone say open/close the light, so as far as I know, it is a Jersey thing.

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I've lived in New Jersey my whole life and know many people from all over the state and I have only just recently heard this phrase. I would not say this is a New Jersey thing. –  user20662 Apr 29 '12 at 4:39
    
I grew up in New Jersey and my girlfriend who grew up in Illinois was constantly making fun of me for saying "close the light", so it seems there's some truth to the New Jersey-ism thing. –  alecb Jul 2 at 5:02

I've said "open the light" and "close the light" my whole life (I am now 61 years old). I was born and grew up in the Bronx to American-born parents. The only thing I can figure out is that perhaps my grandmother, who was born in New York City on the Lower East Side to Yiddish-speaking parents, said this and I picked it up from her. We definitely had no native-born French speakers in our family, so I always figured it was from the Yiddish translation. I am certainly not under-educated.

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I am Chinese; however, I have been educated by British English teachers all my life. I never say open/close, although the fact that saying open or close the light is wrong was drilled into me.

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