U-turns and flip-flopping (Changing our minds, Part 1)

the feet and lower legs of a person standing in front of a U-turn symbol painted on the road surface
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by Kate Woodford

‘A wise man changes his mind. A fool never will,’ or so says the proverb. Whether or not this is true, we all change our minds, sometimes about trivial things and sometimes about things that really matter. This post (in two parts) takes a look at nouns, verbs and idioms in this area of the language. Today, we’ll look at the sort of language that is often used when people in positions of power change their opinions or plans.

Let’s start with some nouns. A U-turn is a total change of policy, usually by a government or other official organization, involving the decision not to continue with a plan or to follow an opposite plan. A more formal alternative to this is the French term volte-face (pronounced UK /ˌvɒltˈfæs/ US /ˌvoʊltˈfæs/). Both are usually disapproving terms:

Public pressure has resulted in another humiliating U-turn by the government.

This was the second astonishing volte-face in the space of 48 hours.

Other nouns with the same meaning (and also derived from the metaphor of a physical change in direction) are (UK) about-turn and US about-face:

This about-turn is surely a sign of panic.

It represents an abrupt about-face for the agency.

In UK English, a climbdown is similar, being a total change of policy, but this also emphasizes that people have accepted that they were wrong. The phrasal verb climb down is also used:

They’ve been forced into a humiliating climbdown over the bill.

The banks were forced to climb down, having been threatened by the government with heavy fines.

The noun shift is also used to mean ‘a change of policy’ though it isn’t quite as strong as the above nouns:

Today’s announcement marks a major policy shift for the U.S.

Turning now to verbs, one that you hear a lot nowadays in relation to politics is pivot. Politicians who pivot change their opinions or policy, sometimes to gain an advantage:

They’ve pivoted away from healthcare to the economy, mindful that this is a major concern for the electorate.

If someone backtracks or rows back on a policy or statement, they change it, sometimes after criticism:

They have recently backtracked from that pledge.

She’s since rowed back from those remarks.

A stronger and more disapproving verb in this area is flip-flop. This informal verb means ‘to change an opinion or policy completely, in a way that makes you seem weaker or less reliable’:

His opponents claim that he has flip-flopped on a whole range of issues.

If you found these words interesting, look out for my next post which will feature common idioms for changing your mind.

7 thoughts on “U-turns and flip-flopping (Changing our minds, Part 1)

    1. nikrio

      thank you soo much Mr.Kate woodford, To imbaing your knowledge to us.
      I’m really learned a new vocabularies through your peened work.

  1. “Shift” is actually a good thing for these non-political and moderate changes.

    As for the pronunciation of “volte-face” – two countries separated by another tongue?

    Pivoting happens a lot in basketball.

    And when you make a “wrong”/illegal move – you end up travelling/travailing.

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