Rolling/turning over in your grave

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Rolling/turning over in your grave

Post by trolley » Thu Jun 25, 2009 4:56 pm

This morning, I used this fairly common phrase that I had never really given much thought to. I can’t find any info on how old it is, or where it originated. I wonder if there are similar idioms in other languages that have the same meaning; to offend or displease the dead. It may not even be the original meaning, as I don’t see the connection between rolling/turning over and showing displeasure or disagreement.

Re: Rolling/turning over in your grave

Post by russcable » Thu Jun 25, 2009 5:07 pm

The dead are metaphorically sleeping, but these annoyed dead are not sleeping peacefully.
"Rolling in your bed" is that state where you're at least partially awake and you can't find a comfortable position so you try your left side for a minute, then your back, then your right side, then your stomach, then you rearrange the pillow, then your left side, then you fluff the covers, etc.

Re: Rolling/turning over in your grave

Post by trolley » Thu Jun 25, 2009 7:08 pm

Hmm. That makes sense when you explain it. Duh!
Somehow I was thinking that they were so upset they were going to re-animate and if you're going to go to all the trouble of coming back to life, simply rolling over seemed a bit of a passive protest. If you told me
"if your father knew how you were squandering your inheritance he'd get up out of his grave", I'd be more likely to rethink my spending habits!

Re: Rolling/turning over in your grave

Post by hsargent » Fri Jun 26, 2009 2:26 pm

Rolling over is not observable; therefore, mentally feasible.

Getting out of the grave would be observable and it begs the question... and do what? I have heard, "Rise up out of his grave and wring your neck!"

There are expressions of looking down from heaven and reacting in some manner. Again that would not be observable and therefore easy to visualize.

This almost seems like trying to explain a joke or comedy. It just doesn't work if you have to explain it.
Signature: Harry Sargent

Re: Rolling/turning over in your grave

Post by PhilHunt » Fri Jun 26, 2009 4:11 pm

One of the artists who influenced me as a child to become a painter was Stanley Spencer. A tiny gallery dedicated to his works is housed in an old church in the equally tiny village of Cookham, down the road from where I grew up. I would often visit this museum, as the entrance of fee 50p was feasible for a small child, and wonder at the small collection housed there. One of his works which has always stuck with me is 'The Resurrection, Cookham'. In this work the dead of Cookham Village rise from their tombs as if waking from a long rest to be reunited with their loved ones. This theme is repeated throughout Stanley Spencer's work and, though it does not answer your original question, it reflects the subconscious ideas we have that the dead are sleeping, awaiting judgement day when they shall awake to be judged.
I guess the idea of rolling in the grave is comparable to someone having a bad night's sleep because of the day's stress.
Signature: That which we cannot speak of, must be passed over in silence...or else tweeted.

Re: Rolling/turning over in your grave

Post by Ken Greenwald » Sat Jul 04, 2009 8:00 am

John (a.k.a. trolley), What a great metaphor!

I did some digging to see if I could come up with where and when ROLLING / TURNING OVER IN ONE’S GRAVE first appeared in print and I think I may have found it. All roads seem to lead to the original expression being TURN IN HIS GRAVE, which appeared in a work by English novelist Thackeray (1811-1863) in 1858 (see quote below). I found TURN OVER IN HIS GRAVE to appear next in 1862; ROLL OVER IN HIS GRAVE in 1881; TWISTING IN HIS GRAVE in 1904; SPIN IN HIS GRAVE in 1938.

The following seem to be the main forms with there being minor variations of these (see quotes below):

TURN OVER IN ONE’S GRAVE / TURN IN ONE’S GRAVE / ROLL OVER IN ONES GRAVE / SPIN IN ONE’S GRAVE (with variations): An idea or action that would have greatly upset the deceased, as in If she knew you’d sold her jewelry she’d turn over in her grave. (Facts on File Dictionary of Clichés, American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms)

Facts on File has the metaphor correctly dated (well, in agreement with my findings, anyway) from the mid-19th century, whereas American Heritage is a bit off, saying late-19th century. But neither provided any discussion on exactly what the ‘rolling’ and ‘turning’ in one’s grave indicates. However, I think that Russ’s explanation is right on the mark.
Russ Cable wrote: The dead are metaphorically sleeping, but these annoyed dead are not sleeping peacefully. "Rolling in your bed" is that state where you're at least partially awake and you can't find a comfortable position so you try your left side for a minute, then your back, then your right side, then your stomach, then you rearrange the pillow, then your left side, then you fluff the covers, etc.
It is interesting to note that nowadays (say 2000-present), at least as indicted by the results from a Google News archive search, SPINNING IN ONE’S GRAVE seems to have come on strong and is up there with the big guys. And, surprisingly, the exact form TURN IN ONE’S GRAVE, where it all began, still makes a respectable showing.
<1858 “‘He's been there every day, in the most open manner, my dear,’ continued Mrs. Speers. ‘Enough to make poor Mr. Pendennis turn in his grave,’ said Mrs. Wapshot.”—The History of Pendennis – His Fortunes and Misfortunes, His Friends and His Greatest Enemy by William Makepeace Thackeray, page 154> [[a satiric picture of London high society]]

<1862 “That these documents, letters to the [[Confederate]] soldier, are almost always wretchedly written, hopelessly spelt and ungrammatical enough to make LINDLEY MURRAY turn over in his grave.”—Vanity Fair, 26 April, page 206> [[in article dissing the South; Lindley Murray (1745-1826), American lawyer and loyalist fled to England after the American Revolution and settled in York, England, where he authored several enormously successful books on grammar and reading. These became standards in schools worldwide. During the first half of the 19th century, his English Reader and English Grammar dominated the textbook market especially in the U.S. (where British copyrights didn’t hold). By the 1850s his English Reader was finally supplanted in the U.S. by the famed McGuffey Readers series]]

<1869 “This family were very particular about the spelling of their name, and if such a thing were possible, the General would turn in his grave with indignation if he knew that his name was written and printed with two E’s, Kearney, instead of Kearny.”—Personal and Military History of Philip Kearny, Major-General United States Volunteers by J. W. De Peyster, Ch. II, page 27>

<1872 “. . . London society, in its old sense, is rapidly becoming disorganized; and the present state of affairs is enough to make Major Pendennis turn in his grave.”—New York Times, 22 May, page 2> [[reinforces the idea that the 1858 quote might be the ultimate source]]

<1873 “Poor old man! The idea of sending him on such a wild-goose chase, after night. Papa would turn in his grave could he know he had been forced out in the rain at such an hour, for a woman's whim.”—Miriam Monfort: A Novel by C. A. Warfield, page 180>

<1877 “Picture-dealers are forced to consult all tastes, but we can imagine how Corot [[French painter (1796–1875)]], did he know of a picture of his in the same room with such a composition as this last [‘the most modern of modern pictures’], might turn over in his grave.”—New York Times, 22 November, page 4>

<1881 “It used to be the boast of a certain old-fashioned schoolmaster, or ‘dominie,’ . . . ‘that teachers ruled the nation’; . . . ‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ he was accustomed to say . . . ‘Logic is logic and there is no use of attempting to get over it. The despised, underpaid, overworked, ‘dominie’ is after all the true and undoubted leader of men, the real moral and intellectual autocrat. To deny it would be to make old Aristotle roll over in his grave!”—Wisconsin Journal of Education, Vol. XI. No.1, January, page 366>

<1888 “Jefferson might turn in his grave if he knew of such an attempt to introduce
European distinctions of rank into his democracy . . .”—The American Commonwealth by James Bryce, page 117>

<1890 “Now supposing we accept the extra 1/4 [[of an inch]], where does the extra inch come from? . . . I should like a scientific demonstration on this point. Poor old Euclid would roll over in his graveclothes to get this tip.”—The London Art Fashion Journal, 1 January, page 93>

<1892 “His objection was founded on the Siwash [[derogatory term for Native Americans]] superstition that a dead person's name should never be mentioned, for every time it is spoken the dead will turn in his grave.”—Overland Monthly and Out West Magazine, Vol. 20, Issue 119, November, page 505>

<1904 “Old Albert Clapp must be twisting in his grave if he realizes what his friends are doing to the little bit of property he left behind.”—Los Angles Times, 16 April, page A2>

<1938 “. . . playing the old songs in a style that would probably cause Stephen Foster to spin in his grave.”—songs at the Onyx Club.”— New York Times, 25 December, page 104>

<1946 “It houses such an infinite variety of things that Richard, a rugged individualist, probably spins in his grave every time the Communists hire the hall.”— New York Times, 15 November, page 38>

<1960 “It was enough to make Baudouin's granduncle, King Leopold II, start spinning in his grave.”— New York Times, 3 January, page E4>

<1975 “Someone thought it would be a good idea to bring home the remains of Pocahontas back to America for the Bicentennial, as sort of a ‘home for the holidays’ gesture. . . At the suggestion that she would take part in celebrating the white man's take-over of this continent, they ought to be able to hear her spinning in her grave.”—Evening Independent (London), 26 November>

<2000 “Assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin would never have offered Palestinians control over parts of the Old City of Jerusalem, as Ehud Barak has done, Rabin's widow said in remarks published Friday. ‘Yitzhak is spinning in his grave,’ Leah Rabin told the Yediot Ahronot daily.”—Washington Post, 8 September>

<2003 “Rush Limbaugh reported, tongue-in-cheek, this week that the Iraqi minister of information was bragging that Saddam Hussein's forces had invaded New York's Shea Stadium and were moving to Broadway to get tickets to hot shows. One of Rush's listeners called a N.Y. TV station to berate it for not reporting the ‘news.’ We think Orson Welles is turning over in his grave . . .”—, 10 April>

<2005 “We can't seem to let Edward R. Murrow RIP; Not only is the veteran broadcaster ‘rolling over in his grave’ all the time, he's 'spinning’ and ‘twisting’ as well.”—Los Angeles Times, 2 April, page E18>

<2006 “We have nothing to fear but Blair himself. . . . John Stuart Mill must be spinning in his grave.”—, 7 November>

<2007 “That rumbling in the distance? It’s probably Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, turning in his grave at the likely prospect of skateboarding, that apparent bulwark of the slacker classes, being accepted by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in time for London 2012.”— Sunday Times (London), 17 June>

<2008 “The evidence Fitzgerald [[U.S. Attorney]] said would have Abraham Lincoln rolling in his grave came direct from the accused via wiretaps on Blagojevich's [[ousted governor of Illinois]] home and work telephones and from listening devices in his political offices.”—The Australian (Sydney), 13 December>

<2009 “Bizet would turn in his grave if he saw this ‘twist’ on Carmen.”—, 23 March>
Ken – July 3, 2009

Re: Rolling/turning over in your grave

Post by Shelley » Tue Jul 07, 2009 6:55 pm

. . . Roll over, Beethoven,
And tell Tchaikovsky the news . . .
-- Chuck Berry

Re: Rolling/turning over in your grave

Post by rryan » Sat Jan 09, 2010 4:39 pm

Baseball broadcaster Ralph Kiner, known for his malapropisms, once said, "If Casey Stengel were alive today, he'd be spinning in his grave." I researched this reference because I've seen the construction a few times and it didn't seem logical. I now assume it's a bit of a wink to history, a bit like employing the famous Bush phrase, "the Internets".

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