Green’s Dictionary of Slang

light n.

[orig. printers’ use; ? to cast a light on one’s financial ‘darkness’]

1. credit; thus strike a light, to open a line of credit; get a light, to obtain credit; have one’s light put out, to have one’s credit stopped.

[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc. 59: ‘To be able to get a light at a house’ is to get credit.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict. [as cit. 1859].
[UK]Sl. Dict. 215: Light credit, trust; ‘to get a light at a house’ is to get credit. When a man’s credit is stopped, his light is said to be put out.
[UK]S. Horler London’s Und. 141: He was extremely anxious to pull his weight, receive a flattering encomium concerning his knowledge, and justify his beer-shifting — in short, an honest knave after his lights.

2. in pl., the eyes [20C+ usage is usu. US black].

[UK]‘Peter Corcoran’ ‘The Fields of Tothill’ in Fancy 72: She knew a smart blow, from a handsome giver, / Could darken lights, and much abuse the liver.
[US]G.F. Ruxton Life in the Far West (1849) 55: From that moment he was ‘gone beaver;’ ‘he felt queer,’ he said, all over like a buffalo shot in the lights.
[UK]Hotten Dict. of Modern Sl. etc.
[UK]Leaves from Diary of Celebrated Burglar 111/2: Keep thau ‘lyghts’ open, wilt thau? an’ iv thau ‘pypes’ any bloody ‘faikin’’ at wurk ‘sling’ mi t’ ‘office’.
[UK]Sl. Dict.
[US]J.W. Carr ‘Words from Northwest Arkansas’ in DN III:ii 144: light, n. Eye. ‘Stand back, or I’ll shoot your damn lights out.’.
[US]Dakota Co. Herald (NE) 12 Dec. 3/2: He, youse, pipe yer lights over dere!
[Aus]G.H. Lawson Dict. of Aus. Words And Terms [Internet] LIGHTS — The eyes.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Pimp 119: Preson might have made it if ‘Sweet’ hadn’t turned those lights on him.
[Aus]D. Ireland Glass Canoe (1982) 167: My lights failed; left, then right. I wanted to see, but the eyes refused to open.
[UK]Financial Times 18 Dec. 4/5: Mr Khan hands over his mobile again so another business partner can tell Mr Hines he plans to ‘come down and punch your effing lights out’.

3. a small amount of money.

[[UK]W. Toldervy Hist. of the Two Orphans IV 100: The shilling is but a light one].
[US]E.H. Babbitt ‘College Words and Phrases’ in DN II:i 45: light, n. Money put on a collection plate on Sunday.
[UK]J. Curtis Gilt Kid 136: He nicks the steamer’s wallet in the taxi and there were ninety pounds in there, there were. [...] He didn’t give me a light of it.
[UK]F. Norman Fings I i: No, no-one comes up ’ere no more. No, the birds ain’t earning a light, neither.

4. (W.I.) insanity, craziness; thus have a light, to be crazy [? SE light-headed].

[WI]Allsopp Dict. Carib. Eng. Usage.

5. (US campus) a bright, clever person.

[US]E.H. Babbitt ‘College Words and Phrases’ in DN II:i 45: light, n. A very bright man.

6. (UK black/drugs) crack cocaine.

Harlem Spartans ‘Money & Beef’ [lyrics] Eastenders with a 4 and a half of the light.

SE in slang uses

In derivatives

lightmans (n.) (also lightman, lightments) [-mans sfx]

(UK Und.) the day; thus bene lightmans ‘good day’.

[UK]Harman Caveat for Common Cursetours in Viles & Furnivall (1907) 84: the lightmans the daye.
[UK]Groundworke of Conny-catching n.p.: Bene Lightmans to thy quarromes.
[UK]Dekker Lanthorne and Candle-Light Ch. 1: Or els he sweares by the Light-mans, / To put our stampes in the Harman [...] Then to the quier Ken to scowre the Cramp-ring, And then to be Tryn’d on the Chates, in the lightmans.
[UK]Middleton & Dekker Roaring Girle V i: O I wud lib all the lightmans,/ O I wud lib all the darkmans.
[UK]J. Taylor Crabtree Lectures 191: Mort. Ile tell thee queere Cove, thou must [...] lib in the Strummel, al the darkmans, and budge a beake in the light mans.
[UK]Dekker ‘Canters Dict.’ Eng. Villainies (9th edn).
[UK]Head Eng. Rogue I 50: Lightmans, Morning or Day.
[UK] ‘The Beggars Curse’ Head Canting Academy (1674) 14: Or else he boldly swears by the Lightmans.
[UK]R. Holme Academy of Armory Ch. iii item 68c: Canting Terms used by Beggars, Vagabonds, Cheaters, Cripples and Bedlams. [...] Light-mans, the day.
[UK]B.E. Dict. Canting Crew n.p.: Lightmans c. the Day or Day-break.
[UK]‘Maunder’s Praise of His Strowling Mort’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 34: When the lightman up does call Margery prater from her nest.
[UK] ‘Retoure My Dear Dell’ in Farmer Musa Pedestris (1896) 44: Each darkmans I pass in an old shady grove, / And live not the lightmans I toute not my love.
[UK]Bailey Universal Etym. Eng. Dict. [as cit. c.1698].
[UK]B.M. Carew Life and Adventures.
[UK]Scoundrel’s Dict. 16: Day, or Day-break – Lightmans.
[UK]Grose Classical Dict. of the Vulgar Tongue.
[UK]Lex. Balatronicum.
[UK]Lytton Pelham III 298: Why, you would not be boosing till lightman’s in a square crib like mine, as if you were in a flash panny.
[UK]G. Kent Modern Flash Dict. 21: Lightments – the day.
[UK]Flash Dict. in Sinks of London Laid Open [as cit. 1835].
[US]Matsell Vocabulum.
[US]Sun (NY) 10 July 29/4: Here is a genuine letter written in thieves’ slang, recently found by the English police [...] I met owt old men of the world tray lightmans ago.

In compounds

lighthouse (n.)

see separate entry.

In phrases

bring to light (v.)

of a thief, to produce stolen property in order to claim a reward or quash a prosecution.

[UK]Vaux Vocab. of the Flash Lang. in McLachlan (1964) 250: light: to inform of any robbery, &c., which has been some time executed and concealed, is termed bringing the affair to light; to produce any thing to view, or to give up any stolen property for the sake of a reward, to quash a prosecution, is also called bringing it to light A thief, urging his associates to a division of any booty they have lately made, will desire them to bring the swag to light.
lights are on but there’s nobody home

insane, mentally deficient, vacant.

Absolute Sound 4 360/1: all I had to say concerning this disc was, ‘The lights are on, but nobody’s home.’ Musically, I was ready to totally dismiss Crime of the Century as a piece of trash.
[US]Eble Campus Sl. Spring 4: out to lunch [...] synonym: The lights were on, but there was nobody home.
[US]Talking Heads ‘Swamp’ [lyrics] Lights on, nobody home.
[Aus]M. Walker How to Kiss a Crocodile 24: It was a bit like my mate, Lou Richards, on a Sunday, the lights were on but there was no one home.
[US]D. Burke Street Talk 2 94: He’s okay but as for her, the lights are on but nobody’s home.
[advert for Berocca Vitamins Apr. on London Underground] When the lights are on make sure somone’s at home.
OnLine Dict. of Playground Sl. [Internet] mentalist n. someone considered to be a bit lacking in the brain department: i.e. ‘the lights are on but no-one’s home.’.
[UK]I. Welsh Decent Ride 77: She’s jist sittin thaire, starin oaf intae space [...] The lights ur oan but thaire’s nae cunt hame.
[Aus]N. Cummins Adventures of the Honey Badger [ebook] Dopey bastard: The lights are on but there’s no one home. The engine is running but there’s no one behind the wheel.
lights (out) (n.) [a fig. evocation of the end of the day in a dormitory or barracks]

1. death.

[[US]Flynt & Walton Powers That Prey 185: His light went out without a flicker].
[US]D. Hammett ‘The Big Knockover’ Story Omnibus (1966) 307: Everyody in town knows you bunk there, and if you go back it’s lights out for yours.
[US]S. Morgan Homeboy 11: Lights out for Glorioski.
[Aus]N. Cummins Adventures of the Honey Badger [ebook] VITAL AUSSIE VERNACULAR Dead: 1. Carked it 2. Kissed the concrete 3. Lights out 4. Wheels up 5. Bit the dust 6. Cashed in her chips 7. Curled up the toes 8. Pulled the pin.

2. unconsciousness.

[Ire]T. Murphy Whistle in the Dark Act I: And I got this. (Bruise) And stars for a minute and then, well, lights out.
[Ire]P. Howard Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightdress 244: Poison went into her blood and it was, like, lights out, Baby.
[Aus]J.J. DeCeglie Drawing Dead [ebook] It was a good punch, and if it had connected it would have been lights out Jacky.

3. in fig. use, the end.

[UK]P. Baker Blood Posse 30: When those budi-bandits on Rikers Island get hold of you it’s lights.
put someone’s light(s) out (v.) (also beat..., blow…, punch..., shoot..., turn...) [fig. use of SE daylights; the orig. use may have referred to one’s eyes and/or one’s intestines, i.e. ‘liver and lights’, but the ‘electrical’ imagery has long since superseded this]

1. to kill, to murder; thus rarely, intransitive use, to die; see 1906 cit.

Beaumont & Fletcher Maid’s Tragedy IV i: evad.: You will not murder me? mel.: No ’tis a justice, and a noble one, To put out the light out of such base offenders.
[UK]Temple Bar xxiv 539: Hocussing is putting a chap to sleep with chloroform, and bellowing is putting his light out [F&H].
[UK]Proc. Old Bailey 15 Sept. 795: [I] heard the prisoner and his wife quarrelling upstairs; he said, ‘I will put your b——light out before the night is over,’ after that I heard a thumping noise—.
Stockton Rev. (KS) 7 Apr. 4/1: ‘He was slow on the draw’ and ‘Old Hall and his gun’ blew his light out.
[UK]Graphic 27 Sept. 315/2: So now, the malefactor does not murder, he ‘pops a man off’, or puts his lights out [F&H].
[UK]M. Davitt Leaves from a Prison Diary I 126: A bloke who has a private churchyard of his own outside where he buries all whose lights he puts out.
[Aus]Truth (Sydney) 7 Apr. 6/3: [of suicide] His honour will never overwhelm him to such an extent that he will go and ‘blow his light out’.
[UK]C. Rook Hooligan Nights 14: He had a difference with a constable, put his light out, and threw the body into a dust-cart.
[US]A. Adams ‘The Double Trail’ Cattle Brands [Internet] Yes, tangled his feet in some vines in a sunken treetop, and the poor fellow’s light went out.
[US]W.M. Raine Bucky O’Connor (1910) 25: I didn’t know he was on the train. Lucky for him I didn’t or mebbe I’d a-put his light out for good and all.
[Aus]Bulletin (Sydney) 31 Oct. 44/2: Sam Whittaker, who recently blew his light out with a gun in Westralia, scored heavily as a descriptive writer at the time of the great mining disaster at Creswick.
[UK]A.G. Empey Over the Top 222: You won’t get another chance to disgrace us. They’ll put your lights out in the mornin’.
[US]J. Lait Gangster Girl 187: If the Statue of Liberty had keeled over and her light gone out.
[US]A.J. Pollock Und. Speaks n.p.: Put his lights out, to kill.
[US]O. Strange Sudden Takes the Trail 223: I’m stayin’ near you an’ at the first sign o’ crooked work, out goes yore light. Sabe?
[Aus]T. Ronan Vision Splendid 94: Well, if I can beat the liver and lights out of you first I’ll swing happy.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Mama Black Widow 166: I’m gonna’ put her light out.
[UK]P. Theroux Family Arsenal 195: I thought you were going to put his lights out.
[US]E. Bunker Animal Factory 107: He had to get off the yard or my partners would turn his lights out.
[US]J. Webb Fields of Fire (1980) 21: She leaned forward in anticipation. ‘So you punched his lights out.’.
[US]‘Iceberg Slim’ Airtight Willie and Me 138: Pa cancelled his hatred when he shot out Binnie’s lights.
[US]M. Baker Nam (1982) 139: You knew he wasn’t going to live [...] It would have been better to just put his lights out.
[US]R. Campbell Alice in La-La Land (1999) 190: I came back to kill the sonofabitch that punched out our mother’s lights.
[US](con. 1949) G. Pelecanos Big Blowdown (1999) 152: You gotta figure this guy that turned out their lights has something against fat hookers.
[US]K. Bruen ‘Fade To . . . Brooklyn’ in Brooklyn Noir 311: Clip. Whack. Pop. Burn. All the great terms Americans have for putting your lights out.
[Aus]D. Whish-Wilson Old Scores [ebook] ‘You don’t run from scum like that, Frank. You invite ’em in for a friendly cuppa, say “sugar”, and blow their fucken lights out’.

2. to knock unconscious.

[UK]Manchester Courier 30 Sept. 6/5: Chorlton threatened to ‘put her light out for carrying on so’. He did not say what ‘carrying on’ meant, but witness thought he meant his wife getting drunk.
[UK]H. King Savage London 52: Blast yer! I’ll put your light out! I’ll break your pretty neck.
[US]J. Flynt World of Graft 28: I nearly had my ‘light’ put out on one of my night expeditions in the city.
[Aus]E. Dyson Fact’ry ’Ands 234: Silly Dodd’s light was put out with er junk iv er castin’.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) Aug. 1st sect. 1/1: He awakens the neighbors at 5 a.m. agitating the punching ball [and] the aforesaid neighbors are offering a reward for the pug who blows his light out.
[Ire](con. 1940s) B. Behan Borstal Boy 267: I’ll put your bloody lights out.
[US]E. Grogan Ringolevio 271: The last thing he saw before a blackjack put out his lights [etc.].
[US]W.M. Henderson Stark Raving Elvis 64: Anybody else comes up here and I’m gonna punch their fuckin’ lights out!
[Aus]R.G. Barrett White Shoes 6: The boy friend got wind, and came round to punch Warren’s lights out.
J. Smith N.O. Beat 251: You say one word about my daughter and I punch your lights out.
[UK]N. Barlay Curvy Lovebox 180: I could punch his lights out.
[Ire]P. Howard PS, I Scored the Bridesmaids 92: I get this urge to basically punch the focker’s lights out.
[US]R. Goodwin ‘Threshold Woman’ in Pulp Ink [ebook] He gets into an arguiment with a business colleague. I watch as he punches the guy’s lights out.
put the light on (v.)

(UK Und.) to inform, to betray a comrade to the police.

[UK]Wild Boys of London I 46/1: I believe he’d rather have his tongue cut out than put the light on.* [...] (* Betray a comrade).