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5 Comments

  • Nice post! This reminds me of an argument that Guy Deutscher makes about all language beginning as literal, then transferring to more abstract meanings via metaphor.

    Turn around just seems like another one to add to the list.

    Oh, and I’d really recommend Deutscher’s book The Unfolding of Languagehttp://www.unfoldingoflanguage.com/

    -Nate

  • WRONG
    WRONG
    WRONG
    it’s from the days of the black death – people would face away from eachother so that they wouldn’t catch it usually they were back to back. if there was a really juicy bit of gossip it might cause the person imparting said gossip to ‘turn around and say’ in other words they wanted to see the look on the receivers face when they delivered the bit of gossip.
    dearie me… it was on Horrible Histories so even my 8 year old knows that!

  • Thanks to The Girl for this alternative explanation, which i confess I had never heard of. It’d be interesting to know where the Horrible Histories author got his information from, as there are an awful lot of myths surrounding the Black Death. I was using current language data (which I think speaks for itself) but my colleague Liz Potter has had a look at the OED, to see if there’s anything in the historical language data to support the Horrible Histories version. The nearest evidence the OED has for ‘turned round and said’ dates back only as far as 1891: ‘[They] cannot turn round on the executors and blame them’ – clearly the same meaning discussed in this post, and also cross-referred to the OED’s sense 33, which is about people changing their attitude or allegiance, and attacking someone they formerly supported (as in ‘she turned on all her friends’). So there’s a pretty clear set of meanings here about ‘changing your position’. But maybe there is some counter-evidence we’re not aware of?

  • so many people use it incorrectly and now it is just annoying
    it devalues what the person is saying because it demonstrates they are not in control of their communication – i.e. talking impulsively
    i think it is intended to convey increased impact but i just sigh inside, reduce my interest and visualise someone doing a meaningless pirouette before they speak

  • Yes it is the Black Death origin. It was passed on via people’s breath so people turned around before talking to each other.