turn the tables

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turn the tables (third-person singular simple present turns the tables, present participle turning the tables, simple past and past participle turned the tables)

  1. (idiomatic) To reverse a situation, so that the advantage has shifted to the party which was previously disadvantaged.
    • 1822, [Walter Scott], chapter I, in Peveril of the Peak. [], volume II, Edinburgh: [] Archibald Constable and Co.; London: Hurst, Robinson, and Co., →OCLC, page 21:
      Well, the tables are turned—the times are changed. A peaceful and unoffending man might have expected from a neighbour, now powerful in his turn, such protection when walking in the paths of the law, as all men, subjects of the realm, have a right to expect even from perfect strangers.
    • 1884, Horatio Alger, chapter 30, in Do and Dare:
      "The tables are turned, my red friend!" said the hunter, coolly. "It's your life, not mine, this time!"
    • 2011 December 21, Helen Pidd, “Europeans migrate south as continent drifts deeper into crisis”, in the Guardian[1]:
      Since its conception, the European Union has been a haven for those seeking refuge from war, persecution and poverty in other parts of the world. But as the EU faces what Angela Merkel has called its toughest hour since the second world war, the tables appear to be turning.
    • 2017 August 27, Brandon Nowalk, “Game Of Thrones slows down for the longest, and best, episode of the season (newbies)”, in The Onion AV Club[2]:
      The execution of Littlefinger is formal, although his trial admittedly gives us ample opportunity to appreciate the tables finally turning on the man who got the ball rolling on all this bloodshed.

Usage notes[edit]

  • Often used in the passive voice: the tables are turned, or similar forms e.g. the tables are turning.
  • Often used with on. Turning the tables on a person means putting that formerly advantaged person at a disadvantage.


See also[edit]