\ ˌvȯlt-ˈfäs How to pronounce volte-face (audio) , ˌvȯl-tə- \

Definition of volte-face

: a reversal in policy : about-face

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Volte-face came to English by way of French from Italian voltafaccia, a combination of voltare, meaning "to turn," and faccia, "face." It has existed as an English noun since at least 1819. The corresponding English phrase "about face" saw use in a number of forms in the decades before that, including military commands such as "right about face" (that is, to turn 180 degrees to the right so as to face in the opposite direction); nevertheless, the standalone noun about-face (as in "After declining, he did an abrupt about-face and accepted the offer") is about as old as volte-face. Although foot soldiers have been stepping smartly to the command "About face! Forward march!" for centuries, about-face didn't appear in print as a figurative noun meaning "a reversal of attitude, behavior, or point of view" until the mid-1800s.

First Known Use of volte-face

1819, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for volte-face

French, from Italian voltafaccia, from voltare to turn + faccia face, from Vulgar Latin *facia — more at volt, face

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The first known use of volte-face was in 1819

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Cite this Entry

“Volte-face.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/volte-face. Accessed 12 Aug. 2022.

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