The Tables Have Turned: Definition, Meaning and Origin

Last Updated on
June 2, 2023

The idiom "the tables have turned" suggests a complete reversal of circumstances or power dynamics between two parties. It's often used when a person or group who is in a weaker or disadvantaged position gains the upper hand.

In short:

"The tables have turned" means the situation has completely reversed from the previous state, usually with a shift of power or advantage.

What Does "The Tables Have Turned" Mean?

The phrase underscores a significant shift in a situation, particularly involving power or control. It generally indicates a reversal of fortunes or positions.

Let's delve into its core meanings and related expressions:

  • It signifies a shift in power dynamics – one party gaining an advantage over another.
  • It is often used in scenarios involving competition or rivalry.
  • It could suggest unexpected events leading to a surprising outcome in a situation.

Where Does "The Tables Have Turned" Come From?

The phrase likely originates from the game of backgammon, where the board is often referred to as a "table." In Backgammon, the course of the game can change quickly and drastically, leading to a situation where a player who was previously losing can come out on top. This is likely where the concept of the "tables turning" comes from. William Wordsworth popularized the phrase in his poem "The Tables Turned" in the late 18th century.

Historical Example

 "I discover there again several phenomena that have the character of experiments. I know, then, that wherever the chain has been formed, the tables have turned and obeyed orders mentally issued."

- Science Vs. Modern Spiritualism, Agénor comte de Gasparin, 1857

10 Examples of "The Tables Have Turned" in Sentences

Here are some examples of using the idiom in sentences:

  • With the discovery of new evidence, the tables have turned in the court case.
  • When she won the lottery, the tables turned, and she was no longer struggling financially.
  • Glad to hear that the tables have turned, and now fortune smiles upon you, bringing well-deserved success and happiness.
  • The tables turned after the second half began, and the trailing team took the lead.
  • The tables have turned, and now it's time to start from scratch with renewed perspective and a fresh approach.
  • The tables have turned in the political landscape with the surprising election results.
  • Anytime soon, the tables may turn, bringing unexpected changes and opportunities that will alter the course of our lives.
  • After years of dominance in the market, the tables have turned, and the tech giant is now facing stiff competition.
  • No longer the butt of the joke, the tables have turned, and now you rise above with confidence and dignity.
  • Once considered the devil incarnate, the tables have turned, and now redemption and forgiveness pave the way for a new chapter.

Examples of "The Tables Have Turned" in Pop Culture

The phrase "the tables have turned" often appears in movies, TV shows, and songs when a significant change or reversal of fortune occurs.

Let's look at some examples:

  • "The Tables Have Turned" is a song by pop artist Ralph from the album "A Good Girl."
  • "Now that the tables have turned and we are all separated, I start my journey with my brothers and myself," is a quote from the book "Voices from the Heights" by Mark Williams.
  • "Then suddenly, the light is gone, and the tables have turned back again. The four of us are alone in the dark—but only one of us knows the layout of the basement," is a quote from the book "The Night She Disappeared" by April Henry.

Other/Different Ways to Say "The Tables Have Turned"

There are several alternative expressions that convey a similar meaning to "the tables have turned."

Some of these include:

  • The tide has turned
  • The shoe is on the other foot
  • Roles have reversed
  • Turnabout is fair play
  • The worm has turned

You can use these alternatives interchangeably depending on the situation's context and nature.

10 Frequently Asked Questions About "The Tables Have Turned":

  • What does "the tables have turned" mean?

"The tables have turned" refers to a significant reversal in a situation or power dynamics, typically in favor of the party that was previously at a disadvantage.

  • How can I use "the tables have turned" in a sentence?

You can use this idiom when describing a situation where the conditions or circumstances have notably reversed. For example, "Once the underdog in the industry, with their innovative strategies, the tables have turned, and they are now leading the market."

  • Where does the idiom "the tables have turned" come from?

The phrase originates from the game of backgammon, where players could "turn the table" to reverse their positions, which is metaphorically applied to other situations now.

  • Does the phrase suggest a positive or negative connotation?

The connotation of "the tables have turned" depends on the perspective. For the party gaining advantage, it's positive. For the party losing ground, it's negative.

  • Is the phrase applicable in a non-competitive context?

Yes, the phrase can be used in any situation where there is a notable reversal or change in circumstances, not just in competition.

  • Does this phrase work as a cliché or metaphor?

The phrase works as a familiar metaphor, comparing destiny or luck to the turning of tables in a game of chance. While often used, it does not qualify as a cliché because of the compelling visual metaphor at its heart. When employed thoughtfully, this idiom can still prove vivid and impactful.

  • Can the phrase be used in different tenses?

Yes, you can adjust the tense as needed, such as "the tables will turn" or "the tables had turned."

  • Can the phrase refer to non-human subjects?

Yes, it can be used metaphorically for non-human subjects. For example, "With the rise of renewable energy, the tables have turned in the energy sector."

  • Can the idiom be used globally?

Yes, "the tables have turned" is widely understood and used in English-speaking countries around the world.

  • Would this phrase suit a professional context?

Yes, this versatile phrase is suitable for professional usage. For example, "The competitors didn't anticipate how quickly new technologies would cause the tables to turn, upending the industry." In business, as in life, circumstances are prone to sudden reversals, so this idiom serves as an apt reminder of fluctuating dynamics.

Final Thoughts About "The Tables Have Turned"

The idiom "the tables have turned" vividly expresses a significant reversal in circumstances or power dynamics. It is a potent tool in language, capable of encapsulating complex shifts in situations with a few words.

Here's a quick recap:

  • It signifies a marked reversal in a situation, typically in favor of the disadvantaged party.
  • Its origins are traced back to the game of backgammon and have been widely used in English literature and conversations for centuries.
  • Though colloquial in origin, it proves versatile enough for formal and informal use.

Whether it's to describe a shift in power in politics, a surprise plot twist in a novel, or a strategic turnaround in a game of chess, "the tables have turned" serves as a vivid, effective, and dramatic way to express sudden and significant reversals.

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