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The meaning and origin of the expression: About turn

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About turn

Meaning

Change direction.

Origin

Originally a military command in the English Army - where it is still used. 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'.