Open main menu



Earlier topside-turvey, topsy-tervy; probably for top so turvy; that is, "the top as turvy, as it were turvy", where turvy probably means "overturned", from Middle English torven, torvien (to throw; cast), from Old English torfian (to throw; pelt), from Proto-Germanic *turbōną (to fling, hurl). Related to Old English tearflian (to wallow, roll over), Old English ġetyrfian (to assail with missiles; attack; assault). More at terve.


  • (file)
  • (file)


topsy-turvy (comparative topsy-turvier, superlative topsy-turviest)

  1. Backwards or upside-down.
    • 1700, William Congreve, The Way of the World, London: Jacob Tonson, Act IV, Scene 1, pp. 63-64,[1]
      [] your Antipodes are a good rascally sort of topsy turvy Fellows—If I had a Bumper I’d stand upon my Head and drink a Health to ’em []
    • 1934, George Orwell, Burmese Days, Chapter 3,[2]
      This argument, vaguely political in nature, took place as often as the two men met. It was a topsy-turvy affair, for the Englishman was bitterly anti-English and the Indian fanatically loyal.
  2. Disorderly; chaotic.
    • 1675, William Penn, A Treatise of Oaths, “The GROUND or Reason of Swearing,” p. 10,[3]
      An Oath came in when Evils increased, when men appeared unfaithful, when all things became Topsy Turvy.

Derived termsEdit



topsy-turvy (comparative more topsy-turvy, superlative most topsy-turvy)

  1. Backwards or upside-down.
    • c. 1597, William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part 1, Act IV, Scene 1,[4]
      If we without his help can make a head
      To push against a kingdom, with his help
      We shall o’erturn it topsy-turvy down.
    • 1749, Henry Fielding, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, Dublin: John Smith, Volume 2, Book 12, Chapter 6, p. 366,[5]
      [] as the Parson told us last Sunday, nobody believes in the Devil now-a-days; and here you bring about a Parcel of Puppets drest up like Lords and Ladies, only to turn the Heads of poor Country Wenches, and when their Heads are once turned topsy turvy, no wonder every thing else is so.
    • 1860, George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, Book I, Chapter 3,[6]
      [] Maggie [] had stolen unperceived to her father’s elbow again, listening with parted lips, while she held her doll topsy-turvy, and crushed its nose against the wood of the chair []
  2. In a disorderly manner; chaotically.
    • 1576, Thomas Rogers, A Philosophicall Discourse, entituled, The Anatomie of the Minde, London: Andrew Maunsell, Chapter 14, p. 22,[7]
      Diuillish it is to destroy a cittie, but more then diuillishe, to euert citties, to betraye countreies, to cause seruaunts to kyll their maisters, parentes theyr children, children their parentes, wiues their husbandes, and to turne all things topsy turuy []



topsy-turvy (third-person singular simple present topsy-turvies, present participle topsy-turvying, simple past and past participle topsy-turvied)

  1. (transitive) To turn upside down, or throw into disorder.