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volte-face


Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day for July 19, 2020 is:

volte-face • vawlt-FAHSS  • noun

: a reversal in policy : about-face

Examples:

“… I should explain that, some years ago, I was dealt a very severe blow when my friend … announced that she wanted no further contact with me. She and I had been extremely close for more than a year, and there had been no warning of this volte-face. I was bewildered.” — Zoë Heller, What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal, 2003

“After declaring optimistically, ‘I think I have a lot to say that might be interesting to people,’ she did an abrupt volte-face, switching to a low, confessional timbre: ‘Who knows? Who knows, right, what I’m doing? I don’t know. Maybe no one will be interested.'” — Caity Weaver, The New York Times, 28 May 2020

Did you know?

Volte-face came to English by way of French from Italian voltafaccia, a combination of voltare, meaning “to turn,” and faccia, “face.” It has existed as an English noun since at least 1819. The corresponding English phrase “about face” saw use in a number of forms in the decades before that, including military commands such as “right about face” (that is, to turn 180 degrees to the right so as to face in the opposite direction); nevertheless, the standalone noun about-face (as in “After declining, he did an abrupt about-face and accepted the offer”) is about as old as volte-face. Although foot soldiers have been stepping smartly to the command “About face! Forward march!” for centuries, about-face didn’t appear in print as a figurative noun meaning “a reversal of attitude, behavior, or point of view” until the mid-1800s.

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