a red light as a sign to stop is from 1849, long before traffic signals; see red (adj.1) + light (n.). As the name of a children's game (in reference to the traffic light meaning) it is recorded from 1953.
The use of red-light district to indicate a city district with many brothels is by 1896.
On a few blocks east of the Bowery, in what was known as the Red Light district, there are still a few houses of this character. The Red Light district was so called because the hall light in disreputable houses had a red globe or shone through red curtains covering the transom of the hall door. A red light before a cigar store, cider room or coffee room indicated its purpose. The Parisian licensed brothel has a red lantern with the number of the house over the door. [I.L. Nascher, M.D., "The Wretches of Povertyville," Chicago, 1909]
word-forming element meaning "condition or state of," Middle English, from Old English -rede, from ræden "condition, rule, reckoning," a suffixed form of ræd "to advise, rule" (see rede). Common in Old English, less so in Middle English but still active in word-formation. It is analogous to -hood, which has replaced it in brotherhood, neighborhood, etc.; it survives in about 25 words.
"to touch down," as a bird from flight, "get down or descend," as a person from horseback, from Old English lihtan "to alight; to alleviate, make less heavy," from Proto-Germanic *linkhtijan, literally "to make light," from *lingkhtaz "not heavy" (see light (adj.1)). Apparently the etymological sense is "to dismount" (a horse, etc.), and thus relieve it of one's weight."
Alight has become the more usual word. To light on "happen upon, come upon" is from late 15c. To light out "leave hastily, decamp" is 1866, from a nautical meaning "move out, move heavy objects" (1841), a word of unknown origin but perhaps belonging to this word (compare lighter (n.1)).
"not heavy, having little actual weight," from Old English leoht (West Saxon), leht (Anglian), "not heavy, light in weight; lightly constructed; easy to do, trifling; quick, agile," also of food, sleep, etc., from Proto-Germanic *lingkhtaz (source also of Old Norse lettr, Swedish lätt, Old Frisian, Middle Dutch licht, German leicht, Gothic leihts), from PIE root *legwh- "not heavy, having little weight." The adverb is Old English leohte, from the adjective.
Meaning "frivolous" is from early 13c.; that of "unchaste" from late 14c., both from the notion of "lacking moral gravity" (compare levity). Of literature from 1590s. Light industry (1919) makes use of relatively lightweight materials. The notion in make light of (1520s) is "unimportance." Alternative spelling lite, the darling of advertisers, is first recorded 1962. Light horse "light armed cavalry" is from 1530s. Light-skirts "woman of easy virtue" is attested from 1590s. Lighter-than-air (adj.) is from 1887.
"of a bright, warm color resembling that of blood or of the highest part of the primery rainbow" [Century Dictionary], Middle English rēd, redde, read, reid, from Old English rēad, used of various shades of purple, crimson, scarlet, pink, etc.; also red clothes, dye, ink, wine, or paint, also "having a ruddy or reddish complexion; red-haired, red-bearded;" from Proto-Germanic *rauthan (source also of Old Norse rauðr, Danish rød, Old Saxon rod, Old Frisian rad, Middle Dutch root, Dutch rood, German rot, Gothic rauþs).
This is reconstructed to be from a PIE root *reudh- "red, ruddy," the only color for which a definite common PIE root word has been found. It also is the root of native ruddy, rust, and, via Latin, ruby, rubric, russet, etc.
Along with dead, bread (n.), lead (n.1), its long vowel shortened in or after Middle English. The surname Read, Reid, Reade, etc. represents the old form of the adjective and retains the original Old English long vowel pronunciation. It corresponds to Brown, Black, White; Red itself being rare as a surname. As the color designation of Native Americans in English from 1580s.
In fixed comparisons, red as blood (Old English), roses (mid-13c.), cherry (c. 1400). From Old English as the color characteristic of inflammation, blistering, etc. Of the complexion, lips, etc., "ruddy, rosy, red" (c. 1200); also of person with a healthy complexion or skin color; to be red in the face as a result of powerful emotion or agitation is by c. 1200; to see red "get angry" is an American English expression attested by 1898.
Red as the characteristic color of "British possessions" on a map is attested from 1885. Red-white-and-blue in reference to American patriotism, from the colors of the flag, is from 1840; in a British context, in reference to the Union flag, 1852.
Red rover, the children's game, attested from 1891. Red ball signifying "express" in railroad jargon is by 1904, originally (1899) a system of moving and tracking freight cars. Red dog, type of U.S. football pass rush, is recorded from 1959 (earlier "lowest grade of flour produced in a mill," by 1889). Red meat, that which is ordinarily served or preferred undercooked, is from 1808; the food of wild beasts, hence its figurative use for something that satisfies a basic appetite (by 1792; popular from late 20c.).
Red shift in spectography is first recorded 1923. Red carpet "sumptuous welcome" is from 1934, but the custom for dignitaries is described as far back as Aeschylus ("Agamemnon"); it also was the name of a type of English moth. Red ant is from 1660s.
"make red, redden; become red," Middle English reden, redden, from Old English reodan, readian (past tense read, plural rudon), from the source of red (adj.1). In Old English often "stain with blood, wound, kill."
Meaning "furnish light for" is from c. 1200; sense of "emit light, shed light, shine" is from c. 1300. Buck writes that light is "much more common than kindle even with fire, and only light, not kindle, with candle, lamp, pipe, etc." To light up is from c. 1200 as "give light to" (a room, etc.); 1861 in reference to a pipe, cigar, etc. Related: Lighted; lighting.
"not dark," Old English leoht (West Saxon), leht (Anglian), "luminous, bright, beautiful, shining; having much light," from Proto-Germanic *leuhta- (source also of Old Saxon and Old High German lioht, Old Frisian liacht, German licht "bright"), from the source of Old English leoht (see light (n.)). Meaning "pale-hued" is from 1540s; prefixed to other color adjectives from early 15c. In earlier Middle English in reference to colors it meant "bright, vivid" (early 14c.).
"brightness, radiant energy, that which makes things visible," Old English leht (Anglian), leoht (West Saxon), "light, daylight; spiritual illumination," from Proto-Germanic *leukhtam (source also of Old Saxon lioht, Old Frisian liacht, Middle Dutch lucht, Dutch licht, Old High German lioht, German Licht, Gothic liuhaþ "light"), from PIE root *leuk- "light, brightness."
The -gh- was an Anglo-French scribal attempt to render the Germanic hard -h- sound, which has since disappeared from this word. The figurative spiritual sense was in Old English; the sense of "mental illumination" is first recorded mid-15c. Meaning "something used for igniting" is from 1680s. Meaning "a consideration which puts something in a certain view" (as in in light of) is from 1680s. Short for traffic light from 1938. Quaker use is by 1650s; New Light/Old Light in church doctrine also is from 1650s. Meaning "person eminent or conspicuous" is from 1590s. A source of joy or delight has been the light of (someone's) eyes since Old English:
Ðu eart dohtor min, minra eagna leoht [Juliana].
Phrases such as according to (one's) lights "to the best of one's natural or acquired capacities" preserve an older sense attested from 1520s. To figuratively stand in (someone's) light is from late 14c. To see the light "come into the world" is from 1680s; later as "come to full realization" (1812). The rock concert light-show is from 1966. To be out like a light "suddenly or completely unconscious" is from 1934.
*rēd-, Proto-Indo-European root meaning "to scrape, scratch, gnaw."
It forms (possibly) all or part of: abrade; abrasion; corrode; corrosion; erase; erode; erosion; radula; rascal; rase; rash (n.) "eruption of small red spots on skin;" raster; rat; raze; razor; rodent; rostrum; tabula rasa.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit radati "scrapes, gnaws," radanah "tooth;" Latin rodere "to gnaw, eat away," radere "to scrape;" Welsh rhathu "scrape, polish."