Angular momentum

This post could be considered a part two of last week’s post about light bulbs going off. I heard something last night that reminded me of another commonly misused metaphor and thought it might be worth reviewing.

During the Screen Actors Guild Awards program, veteran comedic actor Tim Conway introduced SAG’s Lifetime Achievement Award, given to Ernest Borgnine, who has performed in some 160 films over his 60-year television and movie career.

In an awkward moment, Conway appeared to have trouble reading the teleprompter and winged the introduction. At first I thought he might be doing one of his classic bits. I don’t know whether he was able to access the prepared script or had to make it up on the fly. And unfortunately, I can’t find an exact quote of what he said. But what I heard was a misused geometric figure of speech.

In reviewing Borgnine’s acting career, Conway cited Borgnine’s first film or two and then said that his career took “a 360-degree turn.”

Now a 360-degree turn is quite likely; but it is a full turn. What it means is that there was no change in direction.

I’m sure you’ve heard it. Someone might say, “He was headed down the wrong road, but his life took a 360-degree turn.” Think about it. If that’s true, he is right back where he started.

The correct metaphor for a 100 percent change in direction is a 180-degree turn, a U-turn, if you will.

The point of this lesson is not to make fun of Tim Conway. He happens to be one of the most quick-witted actors on television. I’ve laughed with him since he co-starred with Borgnine in McHale’s Navy, during his many appearances on The Carol Burnett Show, a few years ago on Yes, Dear and now, on Hot in Cleveland. In another 12 years, he might just be the Betty White of his gender.

Maybe the SAG Award’s writers provided a lousy script, but he’s smart; he could have caught and corrected the angular reference. Or maybe he was just doing the gig as Mr. Tudball.

The lesson is:  If you find yourself about to use the wrong angular figure of speech and describe a complete change as a 360-degree turn, do a one-eighty.


Filed under All Things Wordish, Movies, Television and Radio

5 responses to “Angular momentum

  1. Sharon

    I heard that, too. I think that the only people who should be celebrated for doing a complete 360 are competitive skaters . (Perhaps there are other sports I am missing.)

    I also don’t want to dis Tim Conway, who did seem to be having trouble reading the script, but I fear that far too few adults would be able to correctly say how many degrees are in a circle. (Or a triangle, square, etc.)

    By the way, didn’t there seem to be a lot of problems with the SAG Awards transmission?

    • I am not sure about the transmission. My cable provider has been causing me a lot of heartburn lately. Just the day before, as I was watching Secretariat on pay-per-view, the transmmission cut off right in the middle of one of his most important races.

  2. Margie

    Many years ago, I inadvertently did a 360 in my car on an icy highway. It seemed like a lifetime before my car came to a stop, heading in the same direction it had started out in. Clearly I did a 360 too, but the experience was as life altering as doing a 180!


    Ms Nymph,

    A 360 degree turn around defines the act of a conservative taking a thoughtful position.

    Keep up the good work.


  4. Kathleen

    As a mathematically challenged individual, I thank you for setting me straight.

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