Tag Archives: 360-degree turn

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.

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