Turn heads and turn one’s head

Turn heads and turn one’s head are two idioms that are close in wording, but mean totally different things. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common idioms turn heads and turn one’s head, where they came from, and some examples of their idiomatic usage in sentences.

Turn heads means to impress people and garner attention; one may turn heads because of something positive or something negative. For instance, one may turn heads because he is so handsome; one may also turn heads because he has done something extraordinary, like climbed Mt. Everest. Finally, one may turn heads because he has done something so outrageous; for instance, run naked down the street. The image is of someone turning his head to literally look at something or someone in astonishment. The expression turn heads has become quite popular in the past decade; it is often seen in titles for online clickbait articles. Related phrases are turns heads, turned heads, turning heads.

Turn one’s head means to cause someone to become conceited or smug in his or her accomplishments. For instance, praise may turn one’s head. Success may turn one’s head. The image conjured is of a person who is distracted by something unimportant. The expression turn one’s head to mean to cause to become conceited has dropped in popularity.


The chance to earn liquid assets is turning heads and converting rookies and longtime gamers alike to this disruptive model of play. (Newsweek)

UConn women’s basketball freshman Caroline Ducharme — the ‘silent assassin’ — is already turning heads in Storrs (Hartford Courant)

Meet six standout players who are turning heads for Ole Miss football during spring practice (Clarion Ledger)

‘His success turned his head completely — he started behaving as if he was a rock star!’ (Daily Mail)

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