The following is a passage from this article:

Slate quickly dubbed the new venture an enterprise to “replace waiters,” and Time declared, “You’ll never have to interact with another human being again.” But at least for now, the company insists the move won’t affect its staffing. And if the tablets take off, they could conceivably help staff earn more tips – by enabling patrons to pay more quickly and efficiently (a swipe of the credit card at the patron’s convenience, rather than the bringing of a bill, ringing it up, and bringing back the change) — a move that spells higher turnover.

I assume turnover as referred to at the end of the paragraph means the rate at which goods are sold in a shop/store instead of the rate at which employees leave a company and are replaced by others. If my assumption is correct, then wouldn't the use of spell in a move that spells higher turnover be inaccurate? because according to OALD, spell is defined as:

to have something, usually something bad, as a result; to mean something, usually something bad

But if turnover here refers to goods instead of employees, then higher turnover from the launch of these tablets would be a good thing isn't it? and not something bad as stated in the dictionary.

  • 1
    You are correct that in the text "high turnover" is indeed a good thing, and the connotation of "spells" is often something bad (as listed in the OALD), but this connotation is not a strict one. As it says in the quoted OALD, "usually something bad" - so sometimes it can mean something good. I try to avoid using "spells" to mean anything other than something at least potentially negative, but it is not "wrong" as used here.
    – BrianH
    Feb 5, 2014 at 19:06
  • Somehow I could pick up a subliminal message a move that spells higher turnover (on us). :-) Feb 5, 2014 at 20:11
  • It does seem odd.
    – user230
    Feb 6, 2014 at 21:57

2 Answers 2


The usage of "spells" here can be defended as a subtle coloring of the sentence with a negative tone word. The tone of the article is negative about the interference of technology in our lives. In context of the article as a whole, the author is intimating that the higher turnover (of customers in and out) is not 100% positive.

As DamkerngT noted in comments above, "the turnover is us". The turnover is in efficiency of getting the customer in and out quicker, leading to more tips and sales. That means we, as family and friends eating-out, have less time to talk. Maybe it's not so bad to wait for a check... we talk while waiting. This is exactly what the author is saying.

If the tone of the article was saying this was a wonderful new device that will make everyone happy and improve our lives with no downside, then the use of "spells higher turnover" would have been incongruent and poor style.


Spell here is a verb, as it is in "can you spell your name, please?" Here, it is used in the sense of "indicate" or "mean".

Turnover is indeed the rate at which goods are sold, but it is commonly used in the sense of "the rate or volume at which any product or service is converted into money".

This spells higher turnover.

Simply means:

This means more money.

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