About face

Did an about face on immigration issues: McCain, pic: /www.azcentral.com

Here is another useful and not intuitive expression I have heard on occasion: “about face”.  When I first heard it I had no idea what it meant also, once one knows the meaning of this expression it is a little less unintuitive.

So an “about face” is  he act of turning around by 180 degrees so one faces the opposite direction.  The expression comes from the military where it is used as a command to get the soldiers to turn clockwise (I guess it is important that everybody turns the same direction) by 180 degrees.

In “civilian” language the phrase is used to indicate a complete change in view point or opinion.  As such the phrase is often use in connection with politicians.  One famous (or rather infamous) example is the about face of the republican nominee for the last presidential elections, John McCain, on immigration issues.  McCain used to be bipartisan and fairly moderate on immigration, defying many of his hard-line republican colleagues – these days he is an uncompromising hardliner himself.

An about face does not have to be negative.  In its best incarnation it implies that somebody learned something and as a consequence has changed his/her position.  In a negative case, like the one mentioned above, it means that somebody caved in and has adopted the opposite position because he/she expects to benefit from it.

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