turn turtle, to
To turn upside down; to flip over. This phrase is often used to describe overturned boats or ships. You need to wear a life jacket because there's always a chance that the boat could turn turtle.
Fig. to turn upside down. (See also turn belly up.) The sailboat turned turtle, but the sailors only got wet. The car ran off the road and turned turtle in the ditch.
Capsize, turn upside down, as in When they collided, the car turned turtle. This expression alludes to the helplessness of a turtle turned on its back, where its shell can no longer protect it. [First half of 1800s]
If a boat turns turtle, it turns upside down in the water. The boat nearly turned turtle twice, but I managed to keep her upright. Note: Turtles are helpless when they are turned onto their backs.
turn turtleturn upside down.
If a turtle is flipped over on to its back, it becomes helpless and unable to move. The phrase has long been used figuratively of inanimate objects, especially boats, that have turned upside down or overturned.
1990 Stephen King The Stand His tractor turned turtle on him and killed him.
turn ˈturtle(of a boat) turn upside down: We turned turtle right in front of everybody at the yacht club. It was so embarrassing.
This expression refers to the fact that if a turtle is turned on its back, it is helpless and unable to move.
in. to turn over, as with a ship. The old dog finally turned turtle, and that was the end.
turn turtle, to
To capsize or overturn. This term comes from the helplessness of a turtle turned onto its shell-covered back, exposing its soft legs and body to danger. The metaphor, at first used for a capsized ship and later for any overturned endeavor, dates from the first half of the nineteenth century. Describing an early motor accident, the Daily News had it, “An engine and two trucks had turned turtle on the embankment” (July 9, 1896; cited by the OED).
See also: turn