Famous Sayings #176 — ‘Turn on a Dime’

January 19, 2020

A few months ago, George was living in his car, but after scoring that acting gig, he now has his own apartment. Sometimes life can turn on a dime.

Image by Rattakarn from Pixabay

This is a phrase that is often applied to cars with four-wheel drive, but it can apply to many different situations in life. The operative word is change, but it depends on how things change.

What Does ‘Turn on a Dime’ Mean?

To turn on a dime means “to turn very quickly and with agility.” The phrase “turn on a dime” can refer to a few things:

  • The ability of an automobile to stop, turn, or maneuver in a small space (ON A DIME).
  • How quickly circumstances can change, as in “Life can turn on a dime.” The saying “Life can turn on a dime” means that things can change very rapidly, whether for the better or worse (Various).
  • The propensity of someone to change their position or betray someone (as in “He turned on a dime”). A related term is “turn tail” (“Turn on a dime Synonyms”).
  • An instance where someone suddenly does something completely different from what they were doing before (“definition and meaning”).

The phrase “turning on a dime” conjures up the imagery of a person turning quickly and easily in a small space, as if that person had one foot on a coin. And since a dime is the smaller U.S. coin, that person “turning on a dime” is making a very sharp turn.


When Was This Phrase Coined?

The phrase “turn on a dime” evolved from the phrase “turn on a five-cent piece,” which was used as early as 1881 to refer to a well-trained horse. In the 1920s, the phrase “playing on a dime” referred to a baseball fielder who could not cover much ground. During the same decade, the phrase “move on a dime” was used to tell dancers on a dancehall “not to stay glued to each other in one place.” The phrase “on a dime” might owe its popularity to baseball, which was once “America’s pastime” (Lieberman).


How Can the Saying ‘Turn on a Dime’ Apply to Real Life?

I think that often, the phrase “turn on a dime” can pertain to sports. Sometimes, one team might have what looks like an insurmountable lead, only for that team to lose the lead and possibly the game.

As I was initially doing research for this post, I was watching on NFL playoff game. In the AFC Divisional Round, the Houston Texans visited the Kansas City Chiefs and jumped ahead to a 21-0 lead. The Chiefs were struggling mightily in the first quarter and they were making all sorts of mistakes. Then the moment came when the Texans had the change to go for it on 4th and short, but they chose to kick a field goal to lead 24-0. On their next possession, the Texans decided to run a fake punt in their own territory. That is when the game was lost.

After that fake punt, the Chiefs scored a touchdown with a shortened field and then they scored after the Texans lost the ball on the kickoff. The Chiefs went on to win 51-31. It is a reminder that no lead in the NFL is safe, especially when teams are not aggressive in the right moments.

That thought kind of leads me to talk about what I read recently. As I was doing research, I also came across a HuffPost contributor post from February 2015. The writer of that post, Jeffrey Shaw, talked about how it was important for people to positively change their perspective:

As I said, there’s a time and place in life for long, introspective therapy — to get to the bottom of things. But it gives me great hope to know that for all of us, life can turn on a dime. For the better. At any moment, what we thought was true may not be. And what is possible is right around the corner.

I’m not saying it’s magic; perhaps it’s simply that we get to a point in life that we just want to get on with it… without needing, or wanting to get to the bottom of things. We want change and are open to receiving it. So we open ourselves up to the possibility of positive, life-changing, turn-on-a- dime moments.

In short, when someone changes their perspective, stops thinking negatively, and takes a few chances, they open themselves up to more opportunities. This is a similar thought to people “making their own luck,” a topic I wrote about in 2019.


Works Cited

Liberman, Anatoly. “Monthly Gleaning (August 2007).” OUPblog. Oxford University Press, 29 August 2007, https://blog.oup.com/2007/08/gleanings-2/. Accessed 12 January 2020.

“ON A DIME.” Cambridge English Dictionary. Cambridge University Press, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/on-a-dime. Accessed 12 January 2020.

Shaw, Jeffrey. “Life Can Turn on a Dime.” HuffPost. Oath, 12 February, 2015, https://www.huffpost.com/entry/life-can-turn-on-a-dime_b_6674200. Accessed 12 January 2020.

“Turn on a dime definition and meaning.” Collins English Dictionary, https://www.collinsdictionary.com/us/dictionary/english/turn-on-a-dime. Accessed 12 January 2020.

“Turn on a dime Synonyms, Turn on a dime Antonyms.” Thesaurus.com. Dictionary.com, LLC, https://www.thesaurus.com/browse/turn%20on%20a%20dime. Accessed 12 January 2020.

“Turn on a dime.” The Free Dictionary. Farlex, Inc., https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/turn+on+a+dime. Accessed 12 January 2020.

Various Authors. “Life can turn on a dime.” WordReference Forums, Thread started 4 May 2009, https://forum.wordreference.com/threads/life-can-turn-on-a-dime.1384379/. Accessed 12 January 2020.

Have any thoughts on the subject? Time’s yours.

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