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Turn up for the book

Q From Laura F Spira: I wonder if you can help with a query: what is the origin of the expression a turn up for the book, presumably indicating an unexpected outcome, a surprise?

A It now means exactly what you say, something surprising. The origin is in horse racing, where the book was the record of bets laid on a race kept by — who else — a bookmaker. So when a horse performed in a way that nobody expected, so that most bets lost, it was something that benefited the book and so the bookmaker. The classic example would be a rank outsider that won with few bets on it, netting the bookmaker a nice windfall profit.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 12 Feb. 2000

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
This page URL: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-tur1.htm
Last modified: 12 February 2000.