The worm turns

Posted by ESC on July 03, 2003

In Reply to: The worm turns posted by R. Berg on July 03, 2003

: : Hi,

: : I know that the idiom, the worm has turned, originates from the phrase, "the smallest worm will turn, being trodden on." I know the idiom's current use.

: : I don't understand the meaning of the origin. What does it mean for a worm to turn? Please help me out, if you can.

: : Jennie

: It means that the worm will turn ON its attacker, in the sense of counterattacking, fighting back. I don't think worms really do that. The whole phrase is a metaphor about people. It just happens to star a worm.

THE WORM TURNS - "Someone previously downtrodden gets his revenge; an unfavorable situation is reversed. The saying represents an evolution of the old proverb, 'Tread on a worm and it will turn.' The meaning was that even the most humble creature tries to counteract rough treatment. Shakespeare picked up the thought in Henry VI, Part 3, where Lord Clifford urges the king against 'lenity and harmful pity, saying:
To whom do lions cast their gentle looks?
Not to the beast that would usurp their den.
The smallest worm will turn being trodden on,
And doves will peck in safeguard of their brood.'"
The Dictionary of Cliches by James Rogers (Ballantine Books, New York, 1985).