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Do a good turn

Posted by ESC on December 25, 2005

In Reply to: Do a good turn posted by Smokey Stover on December 25, 2005

: : I need to know where the phrase "Do a good turn" comes from and what they mean by the word turn.

: The idiom that you refer to is very old, as we learn from the OED: [turn] "23. An act of good or ill will, or that does good or harm to another; a service: almost always with qualifying word, as good turn, a benefit; bad, evil, ill, {dag}shrewd turn, an injury. Cf. to do the turn in 30b (c).
: 13.. Cursor M. 4330 (Cott.) Sco [Potiphar's wife] waited him wit a werr turn. c1386 CHAUCER Pard. T. 487 Hadde I nat doon a freendes torn to thee? c1440 Alphabet of Tales lviii. 43, I hafe yit in my mynde a little gude turn at {th}ou did me. Ibid. xcvii. 72 Thow hase done me ane ill turn. 1526 Pilgr. Perf. (W. de W. 1531) 98 Wysshe hym a shrewde turne, or saye, I wolde the deuyll had hym. 1546 J. HEYWOOD Prov. 34 One good tourne askth an other. 1647 H. MORE Cupid's Conflict xlv, He..Requiteth evil turns with hearty love. 1654 H. L'ESTRANGE Chas. I 15 One good turn deserves another. 1724 DE FOE Mem. Cavalier 242 do us any ill turn. 1886 G. R. SIMS Ring o' Bells, etc. vii. 198, I did the lass a bad turn when I took her away."

: If you read the long list of uses of turn in the OED, you begin to see the relationship of various transferred senses to the original meaning, rotation = change = anything cyclical or alternating or going from one state to another (as in "turn of life" for menopause), to performing actions that cause change. Is this a help? SS

And when speaking (in southern W.Va.) of a person who is lazy, we say: "He won't do a hand's turn." A related phrase: "He won't hit a lick at a snake."