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American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

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TURNS; EVERY TIME ONE TURNS AROUND; GOOD TURN; IN TURN; LET (TURN) LOOSE; NOT KNOW WHERE TO TURN; ONE GOOD TURN DESERVES ANOTHER; OUT OF TURN; TAKE A TURN FOR THE BETTER; TAKE TURNS; TO AT (TURN); TWIST (TURN) AROUND ONE'S FINGER; WHEN SOMEONE'S BACK IS TURNED. Also see under UNTURNED.

turn a blind eye to

Deliberately overlook, ignore, as in She decided to turn a blind eye to her roommate's goings-on.

This expression is believed to come from the siege of Copenhagen (1801), in which Lord Horatio Nelson, second in command of the English fleet, was ordered to withdraw but pretended not to see the flagship's signals to do so by putting his glass to the eye that had been blinded in an earlier battle. His attack led to a major victory. Also see TURN A DEAF EAR.

turnabout is fair play

Taking alternate or successive turns at doing something is just and equitable. For example, Come on, I want to sit in the front seat now?

turnabout is fair play. This justification for taking turns was first recorded in 1755.

turn a deaf ear

Refuse to listen, as in You can plead all day but he's turning a deaf ear to everyone. This expression dates from the first half of the 1400s and was in most proverb collections from 1546 on.

Also see FALL ON DEAF EARS.

turn against

Become or make antagonistic to, as in Adolescents often turn against their parents, but only temporarily, or She turned him against his colleagues by telling him they were spying on him. [First half of 1800s]

turn a hair, not

Not become afraid or upset, remain calm, as in She didn't turn a hair during the bank robbery. This term, also put as without turning a hair, comes from horse racing. After a race, a horse often has roughened, outward-turned hair. Its figurative use, nearly always in the negative, dates from the late 1800s.

turn around

Reverse the direction or course of something or someone, as in He has a way of turning around a failing business, or If some

one doesn't turn him around he's headed for trouble. [Late 1800s]

turn around one's finger

hand. see TWIST AROUND ONE'S FINGER.

turn a trick

Engage in sex for pay, as in A young prostitute may turn a dozen tricks in a few hours. This idiom uses trick in the sense of "a sexual act." [Slang; mid-1900s]

turn away

1.Send away, dismiss, as in They ran short and had to turn away many customers. [Late 1500s]

2.Repel, as in The high prices turned away prospective buyers. 3. Avert, deflect, as in She managed to turn away all criticism. [Late 1300s]

turn back

1. Reverse one's direction, as in We had to turn back earlier than expected. [First half of 1500s] 2.

Drive someone back or away, as in They turned back anyone who didn't have an invitation, or Our forces soon turned back the enemy. [First half of 1500s] 3. Fold down, as in Turn back the page you're on to keep your place in the magazine. [Second half of 1800s] Also see TURN ONE'S

BACK ON.

turn down

1. Fold or double down, as in They always turn down your bed here, or Turn down your collar. [c. 1600] 2. Invert, as in She turned down her cards, or They turn down the glasses in the cupboard. [Mid1700s] 3. Reject, fail to accept, as in They turned down his proposal, or Joe was turned down at four schools before he was finally accepted. [Late 1800s] 4. Diminish in volume, brightness, or speed. For example, Please turn down the radio; it's too loud, or They turned down the lights and began to dance. [Second half of 1800s]

turn for the better Also, turn for the worse. See under TAKE A TURN FOR THE

BETTER.

turn in

1. Hand in, give over, as in I turned in my exam and left the room. [c. 1300] 2. Surrender or inform on, especially to the police, as in The shoplifter turned herself in. [1920s] 3. Produce, as in

He turned in a consistent performance every day. [Mid-1900s] 4. Go to bed, as in I turned in early last night. [Colloquial; late 1600s]

turn in one's grave Also turn over in one's grave. Be very upset. This idiom is used only of a dead person, who in all likelihood would have been upset by developments in question, as in If she knew you'd sold her jewelry, she'd turn over in her grave. [Late 1800s]

turn loose

hand. see LET LOOSE.

turn off

1.Stop the operation, activity, or flow of; shut off, as in Turn off the lights when you leave. [Mid-1800s]

2.Affect with dislike, revulsion, or boredom; cause to lose interest. For example, That vulgar comedian turned us off completely, or The movie was all right for an hour or so, but then I was turned off. [Slang; mid-1900s]

turn of phrase

A particular arrangement of words, as in I'd never heard that turn of phrase before, or An idiom can be described as a turn of phrase. This idiom alludes to the turning or shaping of objects (as on a lathe), a usage dating from the late 1600s.

turn of the century

The beginning or end of a particular century, as in That idiom dates from the turn of the century, that is to say, about 1900. This expression was first recorded in 1926.

turn of the tide

A reversal of fortune, as in This last poll marked the turn of the tide, with our candidate gaining a sizable majority. Similarly, to turn the tide means "reverse a situation," as in The arrival of reinforcements turned the tide in the battle. This idiom transfers the ebb and flow of the ocean's tides to human affairs. Although the idea is much older, the precise idiom dates from the first half of the 1800s.

turn on

1. Cause to begin the operation, flow, or activity of, as in Turn on the lights, please, or Don't turn on the sprinkler yet. [First half of 1800s] 2. Begin to display, employ, or exude, as in He turned on the charm. [Late 1800s] 3. Also, get high or on. Take or cause to take a mind-altering drug, as in

The boys were excited about turning on, or They tried to get her high, or I told them I wouldn't get on tonight. [Slang; mid-1900s] 4. Be or cause to become excited or interested, as in His mother was the first to turn him on to classical music. [c. 1900] 5. Be or become sexually aroused, as in He blushed when she asked him what turned him on. [Second half of 1900s] 6. Also, turn upon.

Depend on, relate to, as in The entire plot turns on mistaken identity. This usage, first recorded in 1661, uses turn in the sense of ''revolve on an axis or hinge." 7. Also, turn upon. Attack, become hostile toward, as in Although normally friendly, the dog suddenly turned on everyone who came to

the door. Also see TURN AGAINST.

turn one's back on

Deny, reject; also abandon, forsake. For example, I can't turn my back on my own daughter, no matter what she's done, or He simply turned his back on them and never gave it a second thought.

[c. 1400] Also see WHEN ONE'S BACK IS TURNED.

turn one's hand to Also, put one's hand to. Apply oneself to, begin working at, as in Next she turned her hand to starting her dissertation, or He was so lazy he wouldn't put his hand to anything. [c. 1700]

turn one's head

1. Cause to become infatuated, as in The new teacher turned all the girls' heads. [Mid-1800s] 2. Cause to become conceited, as in Winning that prize has turned his head. A 16th-century translator

Also see

of Seneca used this phrase: "His head was turned by too great success" (Ad Lucullus, 1571).

turn one's stomach

Nauseate one, disgust one, as in That mess of spoiled food turns my stomach. This idiom alludes to being so nauseated that one vomits?

that is, the stomach in effect turns around and brings up food. It was first recorded in 1622.

turn on one's heel

Leave, as in When I inquired about his sister, he turned on his heel and walked away. This idiom alludes to making a sharp about-face similar to a military step but here usually implies a sudden departure. It was first recorded in 1751.

turn on the waterworks

Start to weep, as in Whenever Dad refuses a request of hers she turns on the waterworks. This term implies that one begins to weep deliberately, as though switching on a system of pipes connected to reservoirs.

turn out

1. Shut off, as in He turned out the light. [Late 1800s] 2. Arrive or assemble for an event, as in A large number of voters turned out for the rally. [Mid-1700s] 3. Produce, as in They turn out three thousand cars a month. [Mid-1700s] 4. Be found to be in the end; also, end up, result, as in The rookie turned out to be a fine fielder, or The cake didn't turn out very well. [First half of 1700s]

TURN OUT ALL RIGHT. 5. Equip, outfit, as in The bride was turned out beautifully. [First half of 1800s] 6. Get out of bed, as in Come on, children; time to turn out. [Colloquial; early 1800s] 7. Evict, expel, as in The landlord turned out his tenant. [Early 1500s]

turn out all right Also, work out all right. Succeed, as in The new cover turned out all right, or

We're hoping their vacation will work out all right. The first term uses turn out in the sense of "result"; the variant uses work out

in the sense of "proceed so as to produce a certain outcome," a usage dating from the later 1800s.

Also see PAN OUT; WORK OUT.

turn over

1. Invert, bring the bottom to the top, as in We have to turn over the soil before we plant anything.

[Second half of 1300s] 2. Shift position, as by rolling from side to side. For example, This bed is so narrow I can barely turn over. [First half of 1700s] 3. Rotate, cycle, as in The engine turned over but the car wouldn't start. [Early 1900s] 4. Think about, consider, as in She turned over the idea in her mind. [Early 1800s] 5. Transfer to another, surrender, as in I turned over the funds to the children. [Mid1500s] 6. Do business to the extent or amount of, as in We hoped the company would turn over a million dollars the first year. [Mid-1800s] 7. Seem to lurch or heave convulsively, as in The plane hit an air pocket and my stomach turned over. [Second half of 1800s] 8. Replace or renew the constituent parts, as in Half of our staff turns over every few years. [Mid-1900s] Also

see TURN OVER A NEW LEAF.

turn over a new leaf

Make a fresh start, change one's conduct or attitude for the better, as in He promised the teacher he would turn over a new leaf and behave himself in class. This expression alludes to turning the page of a book to a new page. [Early 1500s]

turn over in one's grave

hand. see TURN IN ONE'S GRAVE.

turn tail

Run away, as in When they heard the sirens, the boys turned tail. This term alludes to an animal's turning its back in flight. [Mid-1500s]

turn the clock back

hand. see SET BACK, def. 3.

turn the corner

Pass a milestone or critical point, begin to recover. For example, Experts say the economy has turned the corner and is in the midst of an upturn, or The doctor believes he's turned the corner and is on the mend. This expression alludes to passing around the corner in a race, particularly the last corner. [First half of 1800s]

turn the other cheek

Respond meekly or mildly to insult or injury without retaliating. For example, There's no point in arguing with that unreasonable supervisor; just turn the other cheek. This expression comes from the New Testament, in which Jesus tells his followers to love their enemies and offer their other cheek to those who have struck one cheek (Luke 6:29).

turn the scale

hand. see TIP THE BALANCE.

turn the tables

Reverse a situation and gain the upper hand, as in Steffi won their previous three matches but today Mary turned the tables and prevailed. This expression alludes to the former practice of reversing the table or board in games such as chess, thereby switching the opponents' positions. [c. 1600]

turn the tide

hand. see TURN OF THE TIDE.

turn the trick

hand. see DO THE TRICK; TURN A TRICK.

turn thumbs down

hand. see under THUMBS UP.

turn to

1. Begin work, apply oneself to, as in Next he turned to cutting wood for the fire. This usage was first recorded in 1667. 2. Refer to, consult, as in She turned to the help-wanted ads. This usage was first recorded in 1631. 3. Appeal to, apply to for help, as in At a time like this one turns to one's closest friends, or We'll have to turn to the French consulate for more information. This usage was first recorded in 1821. Also see TURN TO GOOD ACCOUNT.

turn to good account

Use for one's benefit, as in He turned the delay to good account,

using the time to finish correspondence. This idiom, first recorded in 1878, uses account in the sense of "a reckoning."

turn turtle

Capsize, turn upside down, as in When they collided, the car turned turtle. This expression alludes to the helplessness of a turtle turned on its back, where its shell can no longer protect it. [First half of 1800s]

turn up

1. Increase the volume, speed, intensity, or flow of, as in Turn up the air conditioning; it's too hot in here. [Late 1800s] 2. Find or be found, as in She turned up the missing papers, or Your coat turned up in the closet. 3. Appear, arrive, as in His name turns up in the newspaper now and then, or Some old friends turned up unexpectedly. [c. 1700] This usage gave rise to turn up like a bad penny, meaning that something unwanted constantly reappears, as in Ken turns up like a bad penny whenever there's free liquor. Bad here alludes to a counterfeit coin. 4. Fold or be capable of being folded, as in I'll just turn up the hem, or He preferred cuffs that turn up. [c. 1600] 5. Happen unexpectedly, as in Something turned up so I couldn't go to the play. Also see the following idioms beginning with TURN UP.

turn up like a bad penny

hand. see TURN UP, def. 3.

turn up one's nose

Regard with disdain or scorn, as in She turned up her nose at the broccoli. This idiom was first recorded in 1779.

turn up one's toes

Die, as in He turned up his toes last week. This expression alludes to the position of the toes when

one lies flat on one's back without moving. It may be obsolescent. [Mid-1800s]

turn upside down

Put in disorder, mix or mess up, as in He turned the whole house upside down looking for his checkbook. This metaphoric phrase transfers literally inverting something so that the upper part becomes the lower (or vice versa) to throwing into disorder or confusion. [First half of 1800s]

turn up the heat on Also, put the heat or screws or squeeze on; tighten the screws on.

Pressure someone, as in The cops turned up the heat on drivers who show signs of drunkenness, or They said they'd tighten the screws on her if she didn't confess. All of these slangy terms allude to forms of physical coercion or torture. The first dates from about 1930, the variants using screws from the mid-1800s, and squeeze from the late 1700s.

turn up trumps

End well, succeed, as in Some brief courtships and hasty marriages turn up trumps. This expression alludes to card games in which trump cards are superior to cards of other suits. [Late 1700s]

turtle

hand. see TURN TURTLE.

tweedledum and tweedledee

Two matters, persons, or groups that are very much alike, as in Bob says he's not voting in this election because the candidates are tweedledum and tweedledee. This term was invented by John Byrom, who in 1725 made fun of two quarreling composers, Handel and Bononcini, and said there was little difference between their music, since one went "tweedledum" and the other "tweedledee." The term gained further currency when Lewis Carroll used it for two fat little men in

Through the Looking-Glass (1872). For a synonym, see SIX OF ONE, HALF DOZEN OF THE

OTHER.

twenty-twenty hindsight

Knowledge after the fact, as in With twenty-twenty hindsight, I wouldn't have bought these tickets.

This idiom uses twenty-twenty in the optometrist's sense, that is, "indicating normal vision," and hindsight in the sense of "looking back" or "reconsidering." [First half of 1900s]

twice

hand. see CHEAP AT TWICE THE PRICE; LIGHTNING NEVER STRIKES TWICE; ONCE BITTEN, TWICE SHY; THINK TWICE.

twiddle one's thumbs

Be bored or idle, as in There I sat for three hours, twiddling my thumbs, while he made call after call. This expression alludes to the habit of idly turning one's thumbs about one another during a period of inactivity. [Mid-1800s]

twinkling

hand. see IN THE TWINKLING OF AN EYE.

twist around one's finger Also, turn or wind or wrap around one's finger. Exert complete control over someone, do as one likes with someone, as in Alison could twist just about every man around her finger. This hyperbolic term dates from the mid-1800s.

twist in the wind

Be abandoned to a bad situation, especially be left to incur blame, as in The governor denied knowing it was illegal and left his aide to twist in the wind. It is also put as leave twisting in the wind, meaning "abandon or strand in a difficult situation," as in Sensing a public relations disaster, the President left the Vice-President twisting in the wind. This expression, at first applied to a President's nominees who faced opposition and were abandoned by the President, alludes to the corpse of a hanged man left dangling and twisting in the open air. [Slang; early 1970s] Also see

OUT ON A LIMB.

twist someone's arm

Coerce or persuade someone, as in If you twist my arm I'll stay for another drink, or She didn't really want to go to the theater but he twisted her arm. Originally alluding to physical coercion, this term is now generally used more loosely and often jocularly. [Mid-1900s]

two

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with TWO, also see BETWEEN TWO FIRES;

FALL BETWEEN THE CRACK (TWO STOOLS); FOR TWO CENTS; GAME THAT TWO CAN PLAY; GOODY-TWO-SHOES; IN TWO SHAKES; IT TAKES TWO; KILL TWO BIRDS WITH ONE STONE; KNOW ALL THE ANSWERS (A THING OR TWO); LESSER OF TWO EVILS; LIKE AS TWO PEAS IN A POD; NO TWO WAYS ABOUT IT; OF TWO MINDS; PUT TWO AND TWO TOGETHER; THAT MAKES TWO OF US; THING OR TWO; WEAR TWO HATS.

two bits

hand. see under FOR TWO CENTS.

two can play at that game

hand. see GAME THAT TWO CAN PLAY.

two cents

hand. see FOR TWO CENTS.

two left feet, have

Be clumsy, as in I'll never get the hang of this dance; I've got two left feet. This expression

conjures up an image of feet that are not symmetrical, as left and right are, therefore causing imbalance or stumbling. It was first recorded in 1915.

two of a kind

Very similar individuals or things, as in Patrice and John are two of a kind?

they're true hiking enthusiasts. This idiom uses kind in the sense of "a class with common characteristics," a usage dating from about A.D. 1000.

two's company

hand. see THREE'S A CROWD.

two shakes of a lamb's tail

hand. see IN TWO SHAKES OF A LAMB'S TAIL.

two strikes against

Strong factors opposing, as in There are two strikes against her possibility of a promotion. This term comes from baseball, where a batter is allowed three strikes at a fairly pitched ball before being called out; thus, a batter with two strikes has but one more chance to hit a fair ball. The figurative use dates from the early 1900s.

two strings to one's bow

More than one means of reaching an objective, as in Louise hasn't heard yet, but she's got two strings to her bow?

she can always appeal to the chairman.

This expression alludes to a well-prepared archer, who carries a spare string in case one fails. [Mid1400s]

two ways about it

hand. see NO TWO WAYS ABOUT IT.

two wrongs do not make a right

A second misdeed or mistake does not cancel the first, as in Don't take his ball just because he took yours?

two wrongs do not make a right. This proverbial adage sounds ancient but was first recorded in 1783, as Three wrongs will not make one right.

typhoid Mary

A carrier or spreader of misfortune, as in I swear he's a typhoid Mary; everything at the office has gone wrong since he was hired. This expression alludes to a real person, Mary Manson, who died

in 1938. An Irish-born servant, she transmitted typhoid fever to others and was referred to as "typhoid Mary" from the early 1900s. The term was broadened to other carriers of calamity in the mid-1900s.

U

ugly

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with UGLY, also see REAR ITS UGLY HEAD.

ugly as sin

Physically or morally hideous, as in I can't think why she likes that dog; it's ugly as sin. This simile, first recorded in 1801, replaced the earlier ugly as the devil.

ugly customer

An ill-natured or vicious individual, as in Watch out for Charlie when he's drinking; he can be an ugly customer. This phrase uses ugly in the sense of "mean" or "dangerous." [c. 1800]

ugly duckling

A homely or unpromising individual who grows into an attractive or talented person, as in She was the family ugly duckling but blossomed in her twenties. This term alludes to Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale about a cygnet hatched with ducklings that is despised for its clumsiness until it grows up into a beautiful swan. The tale was first translated into English in 1846, and the term was used figuratively by 1871.

uncalled for

Not justified, undeserved, as in That rude remark was uncalled for. [Early 1800s] Also see CALL

FOR, def. 3.

uncertain

hand. see IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS.

uncle

hand. see CRY UNCLE; DUTCH UNCLE.

under

hand. In addition to the idioms beginning with UNDER, also see BELOW (UNDER) PAR;

BORN UNDER A LUCKY STAR; BUCKLE UNDER; COME UNDER; CUT THE GROUND FROM UNDER; DON'T LET THE GRASS GROW UNDER ONE'S FEET; EVERYTHING BUT THE KITCHEN SINK (UNDER THE SUN); FALL UNDER; FALSE COLORS, SAIL UNDER; GET UNDER SOMEONE'S SKIN; GO UNDER; HIDE ONE'S LIGHT UNDER A BUSHEL; HOT UNDER THE COLLAR; KEEP UNDER ONE'S HAT; KNOCK THE