My question Amber or yellow lights was closed as general reference. I do not understand why: what general reference?

The one reference that was cited in a comment is the Wikipedia article about the color amber. I do not see anything in it that would help answer the question. The article discusses some of the legal usage (which wasn't the focus of my question — if it had been, I would have wanted more information, but legal usage is fairly easy to research so I don't particularly care about it). The article can be said to mention that amber is British and yellow is American, though it isn't very clear — but a dictionary clarifies this. The basic UK/US distinction was mentioned in the question anyway: it was not what I was asking for.

I admit I hadn't mentioned my motivation for asking (why I thought there was more than a simple UK/US distinction) in the original question; I have now edited it. Nonetheless, I don't understand why even the original question was closed as general reference, considering that no general reference that I've seen goes beyond what I already mentioned in the question.

  • Your edit makes the question reopenable, but someone else will have to provide the answer. I believe everyone but the traffic authorities in American says yellow, but that in officialese it is amber, and no one would misunderstand you no matter which of those you said.
    – tchrist Mod
    Commented Sep 19, 2012 at 20:57
  • 1
    At the time I voted to close I saw nothing in your question that wasn't addressed in the article cited. It was only when your appendix was added that the (formerly) final sentence made sense. Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 2:02

1 Answer 1


I didn't know there was a US/UK difference on this until the question came up and I looked into it.

And so far as I'm concerned, I really did have to "look into it". My first minute on Google failed to turn up anything definitive (like OP, I saw nothing obvious in the link given by the first closevoter).

First I had to establish the (to me as a Brit, unexpected) fact that "yellow" was indeed globally more common in this context than "amber". Then I checked co-prevalence with a known Americanism "run a [traffic light]" to ascertain that the difference was essentially a US/UK split.

My own thinking is that even if they don't use the word, Americans know perfectly well that other people call it the amber traffic light. But how would I know that they call it yellow? I still don't have a clue what Australians or others call it. General Reference? I don't think so.

  • 5
    For what it's worth, I (an American) had actually never heard of anyone calling it an "amber" light until seeing this question - let alone realized that it was the norm elsewhere in the world. I thought it was an interesting question.
    – Lynn
    Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 5:00
  • @Lynn: That certainly shoots down the start of my last paragraph! But we're agreed on the substantive points - it was interesting, non-obvious, and shouldn't have been closed. Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 11:57
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    As an American, I always thought that "amber" referred only to the color of turn signals, front side reflectors, and such... and not to traffic lights.
    – Random832
    Commented Sep 21, 2012 at 15:07
  • @Random832 Indicators ("turn signals") and front side reflectors (not many UK vehicles have those) are orange, not amber. But orange bulbs for clear/uncoloured indicator lights are generally coded Y for yellow, presumably because it can't be confused with a zero.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Commented Oct 1, 2012 at 14:53

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