Grammar 101 with Michael Kwan

There are many phrases that we use in the English language where people have lost touch of the original meaning. It’s not uncommon to hear people referring to a “PIN number,” even though PIN already stands for personal identification number. Another example of this is turning 360 degrees.

Consider a corporate executive addressing his employees following a particularly tough quarter. He bellows out, “We’re going to implement some more aggressive sales strategies and, I assure you, we can turn this thing around 360 degrees. We can make this quarter our best one yet!”

In effect, he just said that these new sales strategies are going to turn the company all the way around, such that it will continue to head in the same direction (downward). Clearly, that’s not what he meant. He meant to say that these strategies would turn this 180 degrees so that they can once again be on the rise and be profitable. He wants to say that they’re going to make a 180-degree turn.

Remember what you learned in geometry class about the properties of a circle. A 90-degree wedge constitutes one quarter of that circle. Half of the circle is 180 degrees and the full circle is 360 degrees. If you turn 360 degrees, you end up facing in exactly the same direction that you started. If you want to turn things around and face the opposite direction, you want to turn 180 degrees.

This is a very important distinction, since they have completely opposite meanings. You’ll also want to be careful about saying that you “could care less” or that you do something “ever so often.” Make sure that you are really saying what you really mean to say. That’s the biggest reason why grammar is so important.