I'm watching a documentary movie on the history of Roman Empire. There's a part where the narrator says "In 113 BC, the Roman General Carbo parleyed for peace with the barbarians. Then he turns around and murders their ambassadors."

Meanwhile in the enactment the actor playing Carbo actually 'turns around', faces to the opposite side towards his soldiers and signs them to ambush and kill the opposite party when they are gone.

Has this phrase 'turning around' got some significance more than the literal meaning?

  • 2
    The idiom is (and) (then) turn(s)/turned/turning around and VP, where VP is a verb phrase in the same tense as turn. It means to be expected to do something, and then to immediately confound the expectation by doing something completely different. The turn around part refers to the contradiction, and has no other meaning. Dec 18, 2013 at 18:17

1 Answer 1


As John Lawler pointed out, turn is at the root of many idioms. So is face.

When someone does an about face, it is an abrupt change of opinion or behavior, a 180° turn, derived from the military command.

two faced means a person acts a certain way in one place and acts different in another.

A turncoat is a traitor.

A heel-face turn is when a bad guy turns good.

In wrestling (professional), a face is a good guy. A heel is a bad guy. Some faces may resurrect their popularity by doing a face turn, that is, become a bad guy. The opposite also applies.

A turnaround is a complete change from one way of thinking to an opposite way of thinking (or bad fortune to good).

So turn around implies a deception, a double-cross, and here the concept is actually played out, demonstrated by the General physically turning around.

This kind of physical 'play on words' is often done on the History Channel, which has limited funds and uses as little actual activity or filming as possible to get their point across.

  • You've got "face turn" and "heel turn" reversed: the term "face turn" describes a heel "turning face", i.e. a bad guy becoming a good guy.
    – bradhd
    May 14, 2014 at 0:31

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