Quip: If your husband were alive, your conduct would make him turn in his grave (1898)

Garson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Sun May 15 00:05:21 UTC 2011

Jonathan Lighter wrote
> I just posted a message that featured the comment, "The Founders are
> spinning."
> OED doesn't have it. OK, but neither does it have to "spin in one's grave."
> Yet the cliche', to "turn over in one's grave" seems just as absent.
> I'm guessing I noticed "turn over..." by 1970; "spin..." ten or fifteen
> years later; plain "spinning" only in the 21st Century.

The "turn over in grave" figure of speech occurred before 1900 because
it was the subject of a gag in 1898. (Also see OED cite further
below.) I discovered this indirectly while tracing the following

If Roosevelt were alive he'd turn in his grave.

The Penguin Dictionary of Modern Quotations 2nd Edition has this
quotation and attributes the words to Samuel Goldwyn. Shakespeare,
Tchaikovsky, Jules Verne and other figures have been resurrected and
set spinning in variants of this quip which has been attributed to
multiple individuals. Here is the joke in 1898:

Cite: 1897-8, The Leisure Hour, Irish Wit and Humor As Shown in
Proverbs and Bulls by Elsa D'Esterre-Keeling, Page 709, Column 2,
Paternoster Row, London. (HathiTrust)

It was an Irish moralist who rebuked a widow in the words, "If your
husband were alive, your conduct would make him turn in his grave"; …

The OED groups together several figurative and proverbial expressions
under 1.d. for the noun grave. Here is the first using the word turn.

1888 J. Bryce Amer. Commonw. I. xii. 159   Jefferson might turn in his
grave if he knew of such an attempt to introduce European distinctions
of rank into his democracy.


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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