Turn over a new leaf

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The idiom turn over a new leaf dates to the 1500s. We will examine the meaning of the expression turn over a new leaf, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

To turn over a new leaf means to make a fresh start, to change one’s ways in order to behave in a better way. When someone decides to turn over a new leaf he takes the initiative to quit acting in a characteristic and familiar way, usually because the behavior is negative, hurtful or destructive. Once the change occurs, it may seem that the person has become someone else. For instance, an alcoholic who has decided to stop drinking may be described as having turned over a new leaf. A person who has decided to stop eating sugar has turned over a new leaf. Telling somebody to turn over a new leaf rarely results in any meaningful change, no matter how angry that person’s behavior makes you. Synonyms for the idiomatic expression turn over a new leaf that may be found in a thesaurus are: change, amend, remake, rehabilitate. However, this phrase carries the connotation of choice and discipline in bettering oneself. As with most English idioms, the term turn over a new leaf has its roots in a literal application of the phrase, though it does not refer to trees or autumn foliage. Book printing came into its own in the 1500s, at which time the word leaf was the accepted terminology for a page in a book. The idea is of one turning a page which has already been written upon and beginning a new, fresh and blank page. This blank page symbolizes starting over, as well as having control over what will transpire next. Usage of the expression turn over a new leaf peaked in the mid-1800s, though the term is still fairly common. Most people are unaware of the true explanation of the meaning of the phrase, and that the leaf referred to in the idiom does not fall from a tree. The confusion comes from the fact that leaf, meaning a page in a book and leaf, meaning a part of a plant, are homographs. Homographs are two words that are spelled in the same manner but have different meanings. They may or may not be pronounced in the same way. Related phrases are turns over a new leaf, turned over a new leaf, turning over a new leaf. Note that the verb turn is conjugated in these phrases, while the the preposition over and the prepositional phrase over a new leaf remains the same.


In fact, it is one of the great gifts that Judaism has given mankind: the knowledge that man can change; that if he has not been successful in the past year, he can turn over a new leaf and start again. (The Jerusalem Post)

“We’ve been in that position all too often in years past, and so we’re ready to turn over a new leaf and start things fast.” (Reuters)

In the past, Bobby Brown has made headlines for his bad boy behavior, but the R&B singer has long turned over a new leaf –and it’s in large part to his faith and wife Alicia. (Essence Magazine)

Lest you think I have turned over a new leaf, I must confess that I am looking forward to trying the Million Dollar Bacon, 4 slices of smoked bacon with a drizzle of brown sugar. (The Shreveport Times)

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