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I have a question about the usage of the phrase "turn to" here:

The complaints illustrate decades of government failure in Egypt, as seen from the overlooked corners of the country’s heaving cities and scattered towns. Like its predecessors, the government of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi offers few ways for the public to make its concerns heard by decision-makers. The turn to social media, so recently an instrument of political upheaval here, now feels more like a last resort.

, and here:

Shayke Abd'Allah Latif Ali, who led one of the sessions, said the recent turn to political conservatism indicated that religious leaders had to do a better job of reaching out to their congregations.

I cannot find dictionary definitions that fit these usages. Could they be political jargon?

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    The first one isn't even a political subject... it's social media. It's a very common phrase. If we are both standing in a room and I "turn to the windows" what does that mean? It's the identical use here.
    – Catija
    Jul 27, 2015 at 21:56
  • Is the first usage a recent, internet era invention? It is not in the dictionaries.
    – meatie
    Jul 27, 2015 at 22:10
  • Social media as we know it today requires the internet... If I need help with a survey I'm doing, I might "turn to social media to find survey respondents". But, even outside of social media, If I needed some help with a really difficult project, I might "turn to my professor to ask for assistance". It's the same thing.
    – Catija
    Jul 27, 2015 at 22:13

1 Answer 1

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You are correct, this is a usage of turn usually reserved to describe political or social changes.

In the first example, the "turn to" social media is being used to abbreviate "recent trends indicating the rise in importance of" social media.

In the second, the "recent turn to" conservationism refers to a rise in the amount of leaders moving toward conservative views.

More generally, "turn to" can be used to describe a social shift that changes the direction of progress, as if the members of the group describes all turned and started walking another direction all at once.

EDIT: @Catija makes a good point, a single person could "turn to" social media to find some pictures of their friends, or "turn to" a library to do research. This is a valid usage, though generally less common.

To my ear, "Turn to" is used to describe finding a solution to a problem. Religious leaders turn to political conservatism because (at least in the US) religious institutions are looking for ways to engage and invigorate the public.

I think this connotation comes from the idea that "turning" implies that this is a new direction. So, someone who rarely uses social media could "turn to" Facebook to reach out to old friends. However if someone is on Facebook most days, I wouldn't describe them as "turning to social media."

EDIT2: @meatie I think this definition fits:

To rebel; to go against something formerly tolerated.

The prisoners turned on the warden.

https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/turn#Verb

Webster's online doesn't quite have this usage defined, though this seems close:

to bend or change the course of : divert

a battle that turned the tide of history

http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/turn

While maybe technically incorrect, this usage would be understood by most of the english-speaking world. "Turn," from all of its official definitions, has a definite implication of a change.

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  • I, as an individual, can "turn to social media"... I don't see how this is political.
    – Catija
    Jul 27, 2015 at 22:10
  • @Catija I did say "usually" :) Good point though, see edit
    – Will
    Jul 27, 2015 at 22:23
  • So, this usage of the noun "turn" is a recent invention of the internet age?
    – meatie
    Jul 27, 2015 at 22:28
  • I doubt it, but I wouldn't know. I don't remember before the internet age!
    – Will
    Jul 27, 2015 at 22:30
  • Is this usage of the noun "turn" in the dictionaries?
    – meatie
    Jul 27, 2015 at 22:55

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