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Often you will hear people say something like 'He turned round and called me a liar', or 'what if she turns round and refuses to pay'.

This 'turn round' (I am informed it is much less used in America) is only apposite to certain contexts. And what exactly does it mean?

Edit after reading some of the responses

Clearly abruptness and/or suddenness are strongly implied by the expression. But I cannot agree, as some have suggested, that it necessarily involves a reversal of a previous expression. That is not the way it is always used in Britain. For example one colleague to another might say 'If we give Charles added responsibility, he may well turn round and use it as an argument for a pay rise'. That sort of use is quite common.

I think the turning around is not about a reversal of a previous position, but is used to indicate that the remark came suddenly and out of nowhere. In other words the fact of turning around indicates that it is not part of an existing dialogue which had been going on.

  • Re: the edit. Why would you think it is anything about abruptness? In the example, it is a change of stance indeed. – Kris Jun 18 '14 at 9:20
  • @Kris 'He may well turn round and tell you you are mad.' Where is the reversal in such a remark. Unless 'he' had been in the habit of telling you you were sane, which is unlikely. – WS2 Jun 18 '14 at 12:31
  • I can't see it as unlikely, rather, it's implied that it is. Anyway, even I am looking for a more authentic explanation of this idiom. Let's see. – Kris Jun 19 '14 at 5:25
  • @Kris Well I can assure you people do not use it in the sense of a volte face. That is not what it means. It means the 'turner around' did something bold, unusual, or surprising. – WS2 Jun 19 '14 at 8:04
  • Which is what my comment was about. What makes you think so? Any influencing factors that made you think so? Have you been under some experience(s) that could be the factors? – Kris Jun 19 '14 at 9:02
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As an American, I can't say I've heard this very often, either in person or in movies. I think it's more likely used in the UK. But I instantly recognize the meaning. It means to abruptly change tone of speech and/or behavior and confront another person in a critical, hostile or recalcitrant manner. Call it an idiom. In 'what if she turns round and refuses to pay?' she may abruptly change her prior promise to pay and decide to withhold payment. The main idea is the abrupt change of position.

  • +1 Yes. I think you are closest so far, especially since you have not referred to any implied reversal of position. – WS2 Jun 17 '14 at 16:39
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I think it is just a pleonastic way to express the concept of something that may be said, to give more emphasis to the sentence!

  • I think that may be part of the explanation. But see my edit. – WS2 Jun 17 '14 at 16:38
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You say:

I think the turning around is not about a reversal of a previous position, but is used to indicate that the remark came suddenly and out of nowhere. In other words the fact of turning around indicates that it is not part of an existing dialogue which had been going on.

Speaking as a Brit, I can confirm your summary to be completely accurate.

-1

turn around and turn about

to reverse direction; to face the opposite direction or turn completely.

Metaphorically, the implication is one of a radical change of one's position/ stand/ opinion on something.

See also, turn around

(transitive, intransitive, reflexive) To change to the opposite direction from a previous position.
She turned her position around and now she is in favor of the merger.

She must have been against the merger earlier.

  • It's really more subtle than that. – neubau Jun 17 '14 at 14:54
  • @user2619 Like what? Can you elaborate? – Kris Jun 17 '14 at 14:55
  • Well, Paul Hopper analyzes ‘turn around and’ as an example of hendiadys, a figure of speech used for emphasis. See this link, beginning on p. 154: books.google.co.th/… – neubau Jun 17 '14 at 15:37
  • Another idea Hopper mentions is that it's an "emergent auxiliary." In effect, that it is grammaticalizing and losing its literal meaning in the process. – neubau Jun 17 '14 at 16:43
  • @user2619 I'm not sure you understand any of these concepts -- not to undermine your efforts though. Neither of those things has anything to do with the question on hand. – Kris Jun 18 '14 at 5:45

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