"Life can turn on a dime"

Discussion in 'English Only' started by susanna76, May 4, 2009.

  1. susanna76 Senior Member

    Hi there,

    I have a question about the phrase "life can turn on a dime." I know what it means, but what is its literal meaning? How did it come to mean that life can change for the better or worse any moment? What does "turning on a dime" refer to exactly?

  2. ace02nc Senior Member

    English - United States
    To "turn on a dime" is usually an expression you hear when referring to high performance cars, airplanes, boats, etc. Since a dime is the smallest U.S. coin, the ability to "turn on it" is a figure of speech meaning you can change direction very quickly in a very small space.

    In this case, it means that life can change course very quickly. Depending on the circumstances, it can be either good or bad, but either way it will be rapid.
  3. xqby

    xqby Senior Member

    Oxnard, CA
    English (U.S.)
    It just means that something can turn around very rapidly. Dimes are the smallest coin in the United States.

    The phrase has been around since like 1880, though it was "turn around on a five-cent piece" at the time.
  4. susanna76 Senior Member

    Oh, so from what you both are saying I understand that the phrase refers to the fact that a dime can spin really fast. Thanks!
  5. Franzi Senior Member

    Astoria, NY
    (San Francisco) English
    As far as I know, the expression refers to the idea that the vehicle (or whatever) can turn in a very small space (a space as small as a dime). I don't think the speed of a spinning dime is relevant.
  6. Nunty

    Nunty Modified

    Hebrew-US English (bilingual)
    The expression "can turn on a dime" means "has a very tight turning radius". A dime is a very small American coin, 17.91 mm diameter. In this expression, it illustrates just how small the turning radius is. (A tight or small turning radius is an advantage in handling a car.)

    By extension, anything that can "turn on a dime" can make a radical change in direction very quickly.
  7. susanna76 Senior Member

    Well, now it makes sense. ace02nc had explained it clearly too... Thanks a bunch.
  8. Hans Zandvliet New Member

    Dutch - Netherlands
    In the Dutch language we have a similar phrase, which might shed an interesting light on this. Transaleted it says: "It's a dime on its edge". Literally it means, it's hard to balance a dime on its edge (since it is so small and thin) and one can't tell to which side it will fall over. Metaphorically, it refers to something unpredictable. It's often used to express a narrow escape from a perrilous situation by sheer luck.

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