Turncoat is an idiom that has been in use for hundreds of years. An idiom is a 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 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 is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, in the same boat, bite the bullet, 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, as 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. We will examine the meaning of the idiom turncoat, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

A turncoat is a traitor or someone who shifts his allegiance from one affiliation to another. A person who changes political parties may be considered a turncoat. Someone who takes one friend’s side in a dispute and then takes the other friend’s side may be considered a turncoat. The word turncoat has been in use since at least the 1570s, though the exact origin is uncertain and may be much earlier. Some believe the word turncoat comes from the act of turning the allegiance of one’s coat of arms from one lord to another. Some believe turncoat is derived from the act of literally turning one’s coat inside out to hide one’s affiliation. Turncoat is a closed compound word, which is made up of two words joined together without hyphens or spaces. This type of compound is also called a solid compound word. The plural of turncoat is turncoats.


Lou Dobbs lashed out at John Bolton on Wednesday night, calling the former White House national security adviser a “turncoat” and “a petty snarling Lilliputian.” (The Huffington Post)

BJP turncoat and now Congress spokesperson Udit Raj said, “PM has announced a package of Rs 20 lakh crore. But where will the money come from?” (The India Tribune)

He continued the regime’s efforts to assassinate turncoat exiles, killing as many as a hundred and sixty people worldwide. (The New Yorker)

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