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I was reading Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill (from the early 1930s) when I encountered this strange expression. This is the context of the phrase:

Somewhere, as you read, the secret to which I refer will jump from the page and stand boldly before you, if you are ready for it! When it appears, you will recognize it. Whether you receive the sign in the first or the last chapter, stop for a moment when it presents itself, and TURN DOWN A GLASS, for that occasion will mark the most important turning-point of your life...

And also:

We pass now, to Chapter One, and to the story of my very dear friend, who has generously acknowledged having seen the mystic sign, and whose business achievements are evidence enough that he TURNED DOWN A GLASS. As you read his story, and the others, remember that they deal with the important problems of life, such as all men experience.

I will greatly appreciate if someone may clarify its meaning.

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    Turned down the offer of a drink = Said no to alcohol = Remained sober and clearheaded? Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 13:15
  • It's also associated with paying respects to a missing or dead friend (example), but that doesn't seem to make sense here.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 13:30
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    @YosefBaskin: That's a reasonable interpretation - but I think it actually means the opposite: turn a glass (implicitly, one containing alcohol) (upside-) down - that is, drink it.
    – psmears
    Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 14:02

3 Answers 3

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I found this on reddit...

In memory of a drinking companion who has passed away, it is customary to turn down (= turn upside down) a glass (representing his/hers) on the table the next time you go drinking, and pause a moment to remember him/her. Thus, turn down a glass = stop for a moment of thought.

That's good enough for me, and it certainly makes sense in the first of OP's cited examples. Personally, I suspect the second example (Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich, 1937) may simply be a "misuse", where what Hill meant was that his subject avoided excessive drinking, but I'm not too sure about that.


In case it's not obvious, this isn't a well-known saying. I just searched Google Books for the exact text turn down a glass for, having found nothing with turn down a glass in - expecting ...in memory of [dead friend]. In the event, most of the results on the first page were actually links into Think and Grow Rich (OP's second example) - but as luck would have it, that search also turned up this excellent example for the "in memory" sense...

“Turn down a glass for me,” was the last written message novelist Jacques Futrelle sent from Europe to a friend in Atlanta.

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  • I wonder if this expression was more common in the 1930s that it is today.
    – GEdgar
    Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 16:26
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    @GEdgar: I should think that's a racing certainty, given it has so little currency today. But I think the fact that I got no results at all from my first search - with ...in..., which I expected to find in the context of turning down a glass in memory of the dear departed, is evidence enough that it never had much currency. Having said that, I've got the vague feeling I may have come across it once or twice from Irish speakers / writers (but maybe that's just because the Irish seem to have cornered the market for idiomatic sayings relating to drinking and wakes! :) Commented Oct 26, 2021 at 16:37
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I think the confusion lies with most thinking that one would be "turning down a glass" in memory of an old friend, in an external physical sense.

I believe, and think it's more appropriate, that "the old friend" is the former (internal) you, or old way of thinking and doing, that's passed. Or has been "turned away" from, "marking the most important turning point of your life".

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I personally think that turn down a glass simply means:'' look no more...this is it! Taking a moment to digest what you've found and "drink it ", take it all for this is what you've been looking for.

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