Now and then, you’ll find yourself at a disadvantage.
Despite your best efforts, your rival or opponent might have a leg up on you. Losing can feel hopeless and frustrating, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t reverse your fortune and take control of the situation.
When people are sure of their victory, they may start gloating and talking trash. For example, if a friend is beating you in a game of darts, then they might start bragging about how good they are, and they may even insult your skills.
However, once you start to gain the upper hand and beat them, you may say “how the tables have turned” or some variation thereof. In this way, you’re expressing that your situation has been reversed, and now you are the winner.
So, what’s the deal with tables, and how has “how the tables have turned” morphed into the phrase “how the turntables?”
Continue reading to uncover the definition, background, register, and examples of this fun saying.
What Does “How the Turntables” Mean?
“How the turntables” is a comical variation of “how the tables have turned” or “the tables have turned,” and it originates in the American version of The Office. This phrase is used to express a reversal of fortunes or a change of circumstance. When someone says “how the turntables,” they’re indicating that although you may have been winning while they were losing, they’re winning now, and you’re the one who is losing.
The Origin of the Phrase “How the turntables”
“How the turntables” is a corruption of “how the tables have turned.” This variation has its origins in 2009 when it was first used in the American version of The Office in the 23rd episode of the fifth season.
If you don’t want spoilers for the American version of The Office, then skip the rest of this section.
In this episode, Michael Scott, a bumbling buffoon who somehow came to manage the most profitable branch of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, is stealing many of Dunder Mifflin’s clients.
Due to perceived disrespect by a corporate overseer from Dunder Mifflin, Michael Scott had quit Dunder Mifflin and formed his own paper company two episodes prior.
Although Michael Scott is often depicted as an incompetent fool, he is always shown to be a gifted salesman. At first, the snooty corporate hotshots at Dunder Mifflin laugh at Michael Scott and are certain that his company will die.
However, after successfully stealing many of Dunder Mifflin’s biggest clients, Dunder Mifflin starts to lose a lot of money, so they are forced to buy out the Michael Scott Paper Company.
While the corporate overlords had laughed at Michael and ridiculed him before, they were eventually in a position of weakness; the tables had turned.
When Michael Scott arrives at the meeting to negotiate, he means to say “how the tables have turned,” but because he is not a very eloquent man, he says “how the turntables” instead.
This is followed by an awkward pause, and they eventually begin the negotiations.
Usage of the Expression “How the turntables”
This phrase should not ever be used in a formal setting.
It is a casual reference to a TV show, so if you use it in front of someone whom you’re trying to impress, then you will probably look like an even bigger fool than Michael Scott.
Furthermore, you shouldn’t use this around people who have never seen the American version of The Office.
While anybody can enjoy this show, this reference will most likely be understood by millennials, older members of Generation Z, and members of Generation X.
Even if you find it hilarious, if people don’t understand the joke, then they’ll just think that you’re weird. Instead, you should only use it around people who have seen the American version of The Office.
If you’re ever in a serious situation where you’ve gained the upper hand, then “how the tables have turned” is much more appropriate.
So, what’s the deal with tables, anyway? Well, the phrase “how the tables have turned” was first used by people playing board and card games in the 17th century.
Since Chess, card games, and several board games are played at a table, when a player’s fortunes at the table change, their luck has turned, or “the tables have turned.”
This phrase is almost always used between friends. While it’s often used in board games, competitions, or other games, it can be used in any context where two people are pitted against one another.
Here are a couple of examples to illustrate common use of this phrase. In this first example, Miller is playing Cribbage with his best friend Dalton.
Although Pip and Nick weren’t playing a game, they were still in competition for Erin’s favor. This phrase can be used in any context where two people are competing or have some sort of adversarial relationship.
Still, when in doubt, it’s better to say “how the tables have turned” than to use “how the turntables” in daily life.
Unless you’re sure that someone will appreciate the reference to The Office, then it’s safer to say the original phrase.
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.