turn on a sixpence

< Previous | Next >


Senior Member

I've got a program that deals with a sport called motoball. The host of the show is learning how to play it and he says "I REALISED THAT ONE OF THE KEYS TO MOTOBALL WAS BEING ABLE TO TURN ON A SIXPENCE, SO I ASKED THE COACH FOR SOME ADVICE ON GETTING THE BIKE SPINNING…"
Any ideas as to what this might mean? Thanks!
  • panjandrum

    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    How delightful!
    A sixpence was a small silver coin worth six "old pence" - the equivalent of 2.5 "new pence".
    At one time you could have fed a family of ten for a week for sixpence (that's a bit exaggerated and caricatured).

    For some reason the expression "turn on a sixpence" came into being, meaning that whatever it is can turn in a very small space. For example, if I said that my car can turn on a sixpence I mean that it has a very tight turning circle. Or is that an other idiom? Anyway, it means that if I drove my little car round and round in a circle, the diameter of that circle would be quite small for my car.

    For example, London Taxis can turn on a sixpence.


    Senior Member
    There is an AE version, "turn on a dime", which shares Panj's definitions. A dime, the ten cent piece in U.S. currency, is our smallest coin, in physical dimensions.

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    My tennis coach used to tell me I wouldn't be any good until I could put the ball on a sixpence.

    When I, in turn, coached the children tennis I occasionally used the same expression, some time after 1971, when decimal currency was introduced. I remember they found it wonderfully amusing that I should use such an outdated expression.

    I was pleased to learn I wasn't the only one.


    New Member
    sorry but i don't get it!!!!
    I'm studying english and I would feel very happy if someone could help me to know more about the expression "turn on a sixpence"
    I have a text using this expression "Bill Gates turning microsoft on a sixpence" and i still looking for a good explanation...i think we don't have a translation for that...

    please help me XD

    I´m from Mexico anyway


    Senior Member
    Australia English
    The old sixpenny piece was 19mm in diameter.

    For comparison,
    the 10 Euro cent coin is 19.75mm in diameter,
    the current UK 5p coin is 18mm in diameter,
    and the US dime is 17.91mm in diameter.


    Senior Member
    China Chinese
    Sorry,guys, I didn't get it either.According to panj, it means make a movement within a small space,no bigger than a dime/penny(figurative).But,
    When I tried to understand above Bill Gates turns Microsoft on sixpence example, I still got lost.I dare to make a guess: Bill Gates made a sharp change to his project or plan?
    More detailed clues needed.


    Senior Member
    British English
    Yes, I must admit that is quite difficult to understand. The phrase is normally used to explain physical movements. I can only guess at the meaning of the "Bill Gates" sentence. My guess is different from yours, fatbaby. I would guess it might mean that Bill Gates runs his company, Microsoft, within very narrow parameters, a small team of senior staff...? Actually, I can't even guess, thinking about it. I have no idea what it means in this context!


    Senior Member
    USA, Anglophone
    Bill Gates is making a very sharp turn in the company's direction, is what I think it means (similar to Fatbaby's interpretation).


    Lapsed Moderator
    English-Ireland (top end)
    You might imagine that a corporation the size of Microsoft would take a great deal of time to change. Rather like a huge oil-tanker at sea, it should make broad sweeping turns.
    The suggestion is that Bill Gates has changed Microsoft's "direction" very rapidly indeed. It used to be going north and now it is going south, perhaps without there being any indication of the intention to change.


    New Member
    thanks for all your help...
    it is very difficult for us to analyze that expression...
    the text indeed talks about the story of the printing press, and they compare the advance of the creation of printing press with the creation of the internet...
    all the sentence is this:
    Bill Gates turning Microsoft on a sixpence in the mid 1990s to ride its crest,

    Matching Mole

    Senior Member
    England, English
    The point is that Bill Gates/Microsoft were originally extremely sceptical about the Internet, and did not see any particular future for it in their business activities. However, Gates seemed to suddenly "get it" and changed direction to fully embrace Internet technology.

    This is the dramatic change in direction that is being portrayed with the metaphor "turn on a sixpence" (or dime).
    < Previous | Next >