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I'm writing a novel, and the story is set in a roller rink. Similar to the one below:

enter image description here
How to refer to the "streetlights" in the background?

Disclaimer: I'm not native English speaker.

(I would also like to know if the one in the picture is actually a skating rink).

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They could be floodlights. And yes, this does look like a skating rink. –  user16269 May 5 '12 at 6:37

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

This is an interesting question. On one hand, they sure look like streetlights to me. After all, if it stands like a streetlight, and shines like a streetlight...1

However, I perused some dictionaries, to shed some light on this. Can a streetlamp be used to light anything besides a street? In the dictionary, I found the qualifier "used to light a street or road" surprisingly, stubbornly prevalent in the definitions!

  • a light mounted on a high pole, used to illuminate a street or road (YD)
  • a light, usually supported by a lamppost, for illuminating a street or road (d.com)
  • a light usually mounted on a pole and constituting one of a series spaced at intervals along a public street or highway (M-W)
  • a light, usually on a tall post, that lights a road at night (Cambridge)
  • A light supported on a lamppost; for illuminating a street (Ultralingua)
  • a light illuminating a street or road, typically mounted on a tall post (OED)

When I visited Wordnik, however, I did manage to find a meaning that allows a more general usage of the word (from Wiktionary):

enter image description here

Concerning a compound word like streetlight, is that a word that gets coined because the first such contraptions were used to light streets? Or is the word meant to purposefully differentiate streetlights from, say nightlights, porch lights, and rinklights? If I carry my backpack like a briefcase, is it no longer a backpack? If I use a screwdriver to open a paint can, is it no longer a screwdriver? And if I use a streetlamp to light an outdoor rink, is it no longer a streetlamp?

Strictly speaking, the dictionaries would caution you against using the word streetlight to describe a light for a rink, but, if I was your editor, I might let it slide. It all depends on the image you want to convey: if the lamp was made by a company that manufactures streetlights (and the ones in your picture seem to be just that, because of the "arm" that distances the bulb from the pole), then I think streetlight is fine. But if they are specially-designed lights used to light up a field or rink, then floodlights would be much more appropriate.

enter image description here


1A reference to the "duck test."

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I'd have thought of stadium lights or floodlights without the picture but those look more like lamp-posts or vapor lamp/light to me. I think you may use the word street lamp (lamp-post) as it doesn't usually give out a very bright light (compared to stadium lamps or vapor lamps) as in the picture.

IMHO, you will get much better answers on writers.stackexchange.com

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Why would you get a better answer on Writers? –  zpletan May 5 '12 at 13:22
    
@zpletan: Writers spend more time at roller rinks than linguists. –  Callithumpian May 5 '12 at 13:53

The term lighting is used, usually prefixed by an adjective such as stadium, court, rink, or field, for lights that illuminate an athletic playing surface.

See, for example, residential-landscape-lighting-design.com, which lists items including Baseball Field Lighting, Basketball Court Lighting, Pole Lighting Hardware, Arena Lighting, Football Field Lighting, Soccer Field Lighting and so forth.

I can't tell what the picture in the question represents, ie whether it's a skating surface, a parking lot, or something else.

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It doesn't appear to be ice, but the person in the photo appears to be skating in some way. Perhaps they're on rollerblades on a rink (that might be ice in winter). To get back to the original question, I would avoid the use of streetlight or streetlamp unless you're talking about a road or sidewalk (a place for traffic of some sort, as opposed to a recreation place). –  Phil Perry Apr 23 at 13:31

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