The Power of the Phrase “It Turns Out…”

“Incidentally, am I alone in finding the expression ‘it turns out’ to be incredibly useful? It allows you to make swift, succinct, and authoritative connections between otherwise randomly unconnected statements without the trouble of explaining what your source or authority actually is. It’s great. It’s hugely better than its predecessors ‘I read somewhere that…’ or the craven ‘they say that…’ because it suggests not only that whatever flimsy bit of urban mythology you are passing on is actually based on brand new, ground breaking research, but that it’s research in which you yourself were intimately involved. But again, with no actual authority anywhere in sight.”

That’s from this interesting Hacker News thread about the rhetorical power of “it turns out.”

The post that sparked it is here, and the author discovers that Paul Graham is a particularly avid user of the phrase. The concluding logic:

Readers are simply more willing to tolerate a lightspeed jump from belief X to belief Y if the writer himself (a) seems taken aback by it and (b) acts as if they had no say in the matter—as though the situation simply unfolded that way. Which is precisely what the phrase “it turns out” accomplishes, and why it’s so useful in circumstances where you don’t have any substantive path from X to Y.

(thanks to Ramit Sethi for the pointer)

7 Responses to The Power of the Phrase “It Turns Out…”

  1. Justin Wehr says:

    Agree that it’s a useful phrase, but I think it can be overused. Dan Ariely (who I love) overuses.

  2. It turns out that Douglas Adams wrote “Incidentally, am I alone in finding the expression ‘it turns out’ to be incredibly useful?…”

    No one could make “swifter, more succinct, and more authoritative connections between otherwise randomly unconnected statements” than the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, except ‘dimensionally transcendental’ artists like James Joyce, Carl Jung, and Groucho Marx on a good day.

    Tools to generate those kinds of connections have been around for thousands of years. You can cheat like I did when I was a young seeker in the commune and throw the I Ching to consult the oracle.

    All the Malcolm Gladwells of the world can’t do what three cents and the Book of Changes can.

    I don’t bother with it now, though.

    Eventually I realized that the universe is on autopilot and the hexagrams are embedded in the scenery.

    It turned out that time and experience are all you need to see what’s been there all along.;-)

    (By the way, Ben, that ‘here’ link is dead.)

  3. Ben Casnocha says:

    As the posts say, it's a lazy hack to avoid having to make a real point —
    so it's "useful" insofar as it's lazy.

  4. Tom Church says:

    Ben,

    I’m glad you liked James’ post. He’s a heck of a writer, and very intelligent. Make sure you peruse his Reverso Time post (link to jsomers.net). It was a constant source of amusement for our group of friends; we never knew when he was awake.

    -TC

  5. Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist says:

    I am continually “impressed” by the subtle abuses of our language to present ideas and thoughts as fact without any substantiation. It turns out that I liked your post.

    Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist
    link to community.ca.com

  6. s says:

    indeed sir!

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