turn one's back on/to

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stephent74

Senior Member
Chinese--Beijing
Hi,

Turn his back on someone

Turn his back to someone

When this two are refering to the body movement, is there any difference in meaning? I see no difference.
 
  • Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    Hello, stephen74. :)

    I see a distinction in meaning, though I am not certain that everyone will see the same distinction.

    To turn your back on someone has the metaphorical meaning of rejecting someone, or neglecting them at a time when they need your help. Here is a thread discussing that meaning:To turn your back to someone is more likely to have the literal meaning: to turn so that your back is towards someone.
     

    stephent74

    Senior Member
    Chinese--Beijing
    Thank you Cagey.

    The reason I ask this question is I just saw the two phrases both being used in a novel, and I cannot see the 'turn one's back on' is used in its metaphorical sense.

    I tried to find those sentences again in that book but failed. But that's OK, maybe I can find them later.

    Thanks.
     

    Cagey

    post mod (English Only / Latin)
    English - US
    You are right.

    "To turn one's back on" is also used simply to refer to movement. I should have said that.

    When you have the context, we'll see whether there seems to be a reason the author chose one over the other in that particular case.
     

    se16teddy

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I googled "turned his back on" and didn't find a single example used in a literal sense. I suspect that even if it were used with a literal component to the sense, it would still have a strong whiff of its transferred meaning.
     

    sevengem

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    Is this sentence correct? Jack's parents are always concerned about how he is doing at school, but Jack often turns his back on them.
    I am wondering whether turn one's back on is only used to mean refuse to help.
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    Well, in the sentence you provide "turn his back on" means "refuse their help," and not "refuse to help." It means "ignore." It does often mean "ignore pleas for assistance," but it's not exclusive.
     

    lucas-sp

    Senior Member
    English - Californian
    Makes sense to me! I'm sorry, I didn't exactly understand your question.

    The sentence could be even clearer if it ran: Jack's parents are always concerned about how he is doing at school, but Jack often turns his back on their offers of help / their pleas for him to try harder / their attempts to get him to talk about his schoolwork.

    It's not necessarily "them" that Jack is ignoring, in the logic of the sentence, but their expression of their concern that he's not doing well enough at school.
     
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