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I am having a hard time deciphering the phrase, which I came across in a local magazine. Does it mean the person

  • started out as a singer and switched careers one by one to finally become a politician? (mostly think this is correct)

  • started as a politician but is now a singer? (not in favor of this option)

  • juggles all 4 roles, simultaneously?(politician for a few months, actor for a few months..see below example for my dilemma)

I searched online(Image Search) for "singer turned actor" and one of the prominent results was that of Justin Timberlake. As far as I understand, he was a singer first, ventured into acting later, but he does both singing and acting at present, doesn't he? Or am I getting confused with a rather simple usage?

Also I would like to know what these type of phrases (A-turned-B-turned-C) are known in English(if there exists an established term).

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  • I was in the middle of answering your question. Hope it clears your confusion. :-) The mass in your example is an adjective used attributively. According to Oxford Online Dictionary, it means as an adjective: >[Attirubutive] Involving or affecting large numbers of people or things: the film has > mass appeal, a mass exodus of refugees
    – user140086
    Dec 25, 2015 at 16:57
  • @Rathony - I am so sorry. I have undeleted it now. Please do provide your valuable answer. There's always a chance of understanding things better!
    – BiscuitBoy
    Dec 25, 2015 at 17:00

3 Answers 3

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In English, it is called compound modifier (also called a compound adjective, phrasal adjective, or adjectival phrase):

a compound of two or more attributive words: That is, more than one word that together modify a noun. Compound modifiers are grammatically equivalent to single-word modifiers, and can be used in combination with other modifiers. Note that in the preceding sentence, "single-word" is itself a compound modifier.

[Wikipedia]

In your example:

singer-turned-actor-turned-writer-turned-politician

The words in bold modify politician. We can't be sure about whether he is still engaged in jobs in the compound modifier such as singing, acting or writing (Justin Timberlake still sings and acts). But it definitely means he/she was involved in singing, acting, and writing before he/she became a politician. Currently he/she is a politician.

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This means a person first came up as a singer, then took chance with acting career and then had a try with writing as well and lastly he became politician.But there are two cases:

1) He got success in all of them (might be versatile enough and talented enough).

2) He didn't get success so he changed professions one after another.

Phrase doesn't define the person's success or failure of his careers you got to know about the person first.

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The meaning is the first you are suggesting:

A singer that became an actor, then an writer and lastly a politician. It doesn't specifically refer to successful or unsuccessful changes. That would be understood by a wider context.

To turn, (become):

  • [L, I or T usually + adv/prep] to (​cause to) ​become, ​change into, or come to be something:

    • Keele, ​pop ​star turned ​business ​tycoon, has ​launched a new ​range of ​cosmetics.

(Cambridge Dictionary)

From The Best Law Schools' Admissions Secrets:

  • John Grisham, a lawyer-turned-politician-turned-novelist, and a graduate of University of Mississippi Law School; David E. Kelley, lawyer-turned-screenwriter -and-producer, and a graduate of Boston University Law
  • It is an expression you can easily come across.

You can find other usage examples here.

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