Posted by R. Berg on November 10, 2001

In Reply to: Turncoat posted by Jay Gregory on November 10, 2001

: I thought the etymology of this word had roots in the British retreat wearing redcoats.

: If wrong.... what is correct?

It's too old for that: the Oxford English Dictionary has a quotation from 1557 ("I will beleue none of you all, for you be turne coates, and chaungelinges, and be wauering minded"). The OED says the literal meaning is "one who turns his coat." A phrase is also listed, "turn one's coat," to change one's principles or party, first quotation 1565. What I visualize is someone turning his coat inside out to make a different color show--the color of the king's party or of the opposing party, the Capulets or the Montagues, and so forth.