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Here's the meaning

Posted by Word Camel on April 28, 2003

In Reply to: Turn a question on its head posted by Azad on April 28, 2003

: Does anyone know the meaning and orgin of the phrase "turn a question on its head"?

A "question" as it is used here is more akin to a problem to be solved, i.e. the question of teenage pregnancy, rather than a question asked in order to find out a piece of information, like "What time does the film start?"

To "turn a question on it's head" then is to repose the problem so it's apparent that the problem is precisely the opposite of what everyone assumed it was.

So for example, you might start out by arguing that the quality of freshman essays has fallen because universities are too elitist. However, you might then discover that the university has lowered its admission standards, letting in students who do not know how to write. You might then argue that the question is not that universities are too elitist but that they are not elitist *enough*.

I have no clue what the origin is, but I do know that turning a question on its head is a very useful thing to do. In my experience, nine times out of ten the question turns out to be the opposite of what it was assumed to be.