Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

How did Turf Come to be ‘to Turf’?

A old verb is currently being tossed about the networks, to turf. It seems to mean “throw or kick someone forcibly out of some organization or office”. In these days of artificial turf, how did this noun turn up as a verb meaning this?

The verb derived from the noun was first recorded in 1598. It meant “to place or lay under the turf; to cover with turf”. By the 18th century it had metaphorized to “bury”, which is a kind of cover-up with turf.

It was only in the late 19th century that to turf turned up with the meaning it has today. What happened between the 18th and 20th centuries?

In the late 19th century the phrase on the turf came to mean “on the street(s)” in the sense prostitutes are “on the street”. So this sense of turf influenced the meaning of the verb, which became “to put out on the street”.

Now, since we use the verbal particles out when we say kick out, it was natural to use turf out as a slang replacement.

One Response to “How did Turf Come to be ‘to Turf’?”

  1. Cecile Roy Says:

    I love this blog – I’m always so curious about how either words or phrases originated. Right now I’m watching ‘Sons of Liberty’ on History2. Within the first minute or two a man, fighting some others, says, ‘Get out. This is our turf’. Actually, that kind of ruined the whole idea for me of being back in 1725… I feel like I’m watching a remake of ‘West Side Story’. I wish modern day slang could be kept out of ‘historical fiction’ but, evidentially, that’s not always possible! THANKS FOR A GREAT BLOG !!

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