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"We tore the roof off that one red light town" - from Thomas Rhett's Remember You Young.

What does "one red light town" mean? I've always assumed it's talking about how small the town is, but just looked it up and couldn't find the term defined or used anywhere else.

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You were correct, but if you had searched for slight variations (one/single, red light/traffic light/stoplight), you would have found it easily. The following list of words with similar meaning gives an idea of what it can mean if used figuratively.

one-horse town, backwater, backwoods, boondocks, bump in the road, hick town, jerkwater town, jumping-off place, middle of nowhere, one-blink town, one-gas-station town, tank town, the sticks, whistlestop, wide place in the road, Podunk, frontier, backlands backcountry, bush, up-country, hinterland, outlands, outback, the back of beyond, isolated place, sleepy town, back of beyond, remote place, sticks, the middle of nowhere, secluded spot

https://www.wordhippo.com/what-is/another-word-for/one_stoplight_town.html

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    The OP guessed that the phrase referred to how small the town is, but hadn't guessed that "red light" meant traffic light. I think you set the bar too high for what askers should search for. If you don't know what someone means by a certain phrase, you don't know what are "slight variations".
    – Rosie F
    Jan 23 '20 at 8:47
  • @RosieF 'single red light town' (so only changing 'one' into 'single') would have done the trick. OP mentioned they had looked it up, and the above is just showing a little trick on how to spread a search a bit.
    – Řídící
    Jan 23 '20 at 13:46
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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red-light_district.

It may be read referring to the above. Places where brothels operate are called red-streets. Red-streets of Mumbai is notorious.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kamathipura

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  • So the OP's quote is about a town with a red light district so small it has only one red light?
    – nnnnnn
    Dec 24 '19 at 6:39
  • @nnnnnn - That was certainly my interpretation, as a British English speaker. But an "{adjective} town" is very much an American phrase, and based on the votes I'm guessing American English doesn't use the phrase "red light" in quite the same way.
    – AndyT
    Jan 23 '20 at 11:41
  • This makes sense when you realize that one horse town is a euphemism for a similar red-light district reference. The red lights were from the trainmen's lanterns, which were left outside.
    – Phil Sweet
    Jan 23 '20 at 11:49
  • trainman's lantern - thumbs.worthpoint.com/zoom/images1/1/0608/10/…
    – Phil Sweet
    Jan 23 '20 at 11:56

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