Turn in one's grave

(Enough to make one) turn in one's grave is an idiom to describe an extreme level of shock or an intense level of surprise, and is expressed as the vicarious sentiment of a deceased person.[1] This hyperbolic figure of speech is used to describe the upset, disgust, horror or anger of a deceased person if he or she were alive to hear of a certain news story, action or idea – especially a negative one. It is also said of the deceased founder(s) of governments or private institutions if their extant leadership goes against the founder(s)' principles or pursue(s) programs that the founder(s) would not have executed or envisioned.[2] The main idea is that instead of being able to rest in peace, the dead person in question is sleeping uncomfortably, akin to the common and often tedious "rolling around in one's bed" action when one cannot sleep.[3] The phrase dates from the mid- to late-nineteenth century.[4]


The earliest known example is a 4th November 1801 House of Commons speech by a Mr. Windham warning Britain against giving too much power to France during the preliminaries to peace following the revolutionary wars: "Thus have we done a thing altogether unknown in the history of this country ; a thing which would have scared all former politicians ; a thing, which, if our old Whig politicians were now to hear, they would turn in their graves." [5] One of the earliest uses is found in William Thackeray's 1849 work The History of Pendennis, where Mrs. Wapshot, upset by a man's advances on the widow of Mr. Pendennis whom the widow had "never liked," says it's "enough to make poor Mr. Pendennis turn in his grave."[6] Another early use of the phrase is in historian James Bryce's 1888 work The American Commonwealth in which he said: "Jefferson might turn in his grave if he knew."[7] It has also been said that circa 1906, when George Bernard Shaw was invited to Henry Irving's funeral, he said "If I were at Westminister, Henry Irving would turn in his grave, just as Shakespeare would turn in his grave were Henry Irving at Stratford," implying that Irving's productions of Shakespeare would have made the actor as offensive to Shakespeare as Shaw had made himself offensive to Irving with the numerous critical reviews he had written of Irving's work.[8] In 1902, the work Current Literature stated that "William Morris might well turn in his grave if he could see the uses to which his fine dreams of beautiful books have been put."[9] Where the sorry state of people's spelling/punctuation/literary skills come under criticism, the act is generally said to make "Shakespeare turn in his grave," as he is associated with high literary standards. One example of this is when a national newspaper opined that writing the word "cough" with an "F" would cause such a thing to occur.[10]


Other forms or "fanciful variants" of this idiom includes:

The Spanish version of the phrase is "revolcarse en la tumba".[11]

See also


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