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The meaning and origin of the expression: About turn

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About turn

What's the meaning of the phrase 'About turn'?

Change direction.

What's the origin of the phrase 'About turn'?

Originally a military command in the English Army - it is still used in the British Army. The earliest citation in print that I can find is from A Plan of Discipline, Composed for the Use of the Militia, by William Windham and George Townshend, 1760:

When he [the commanding officer] would have them [the battalion] retreat, he either gives the words of command,

To the right about! Turn!

or else orders the drummers to beat the Retreat.

'Turn about' was a common colloquial phrase prior to this, meaning simply 'turn to face the opposite direction'.

See also, 'About face'.

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