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The dialogue is about a mole who would provide them secret information about the inner circle.

– I don't buy it. Didn't you tell me yourself, nobody turns on al-Qaeda?

– The Jordans have worked him for a year, dinners, money. They convinced him... it's his patriotic duty to turn on al-Qaeda, and get rich doing it.

(Film: Zero Dark Thirty - United States, 2012)

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  • 3
    Related term: turncoat
    – ryanyuyu
    Jul 18, 2017 at 16:29
  • 2
    Aside - I suspect it's 'dinars', not dinners!
    – peterG
    Jul 18, 2017 at 16:48
  • Nobody who is supporting al-Quaeda will start working against them (probably because it is not good for your health).
    – gnasher729
    Jul 18, 2017 at 21:09

1 Answer 1

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I haven't seen the film, but from the context I can guess that it means "to betray". "To turn on someone" means "to betray (someone)": "He turned on me" means "He betrayed me" (he was "with" me and now he is "against" me, and thus he "turned" on me).

(Note that this should not be confused with "to turn someone on" which means "to arouse"...)

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    worth noting the difference in spoken inflection. To betray someone is to turn on them. To sexually arouse someone is to turn on that person ( or turn them on)
    – Adam
    Jul 18, 2017 at 13:34
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    Turn on X can also mean to move a switch controlling the power of X to on position as well, e.g. I turned on the lights.
    – LawrenceC
    Jul 18, 2017 at 14:08
  • @LawrenceC I'd quibble that it doesn't necessarily mean flipping a physical switch. We often say things like, "If the sensor detects that the temperature has increased more than 2 degrees, it turns on the cooling system", etc. That is, you can turn something on electronically, with software, etc.
    – Jay
    Jul 18, 2017 at 15:40
  • And the switch-flipping meaning can have either inflection. I think most often you say turn on the lights, but you can turn on the lights when you want to emphasize on versus off. In contrast, betrayal always emphasizes turn and arousal always emphasizes on. Jul 18, 2017 at 22:44
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    @Adam: Word order matters too, probably moreso. I would have to think twice about it to interpret "to turn on that person" as "to arouse", whereas "to turn that person on" is clear. Jul 19, 2017 at 3:33

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