See also: topsyturvy and topsy turvy



The origin of the adverb and adjective are uncertain. Topsy is probably derived from top or tops though this does not explain the -sy ending; it has been suggested that the latter comes from so (thus, top so) or from top-set or top-side, modified to match the -y ending of turvy. Turvy is probably derived from terve, turve (to be thrown down; to fall; to dash down; to cast, throw; to turn back or down; to fold or roll over) (obsolete)[1] +‎ -y (suffix meaning ‘having the quality of; inclined to’), with turve inherited from Middle English terven (to throw (something) down; to throw (something) into confusion; to level; to resort or turn (to something); to go, move; to turn; to collapse, fall) [], perhaps from Old English *tierfan (compare Old English tearflian (to roll over, wallow))[2] or from Old English torfian (to launch, throw; to shoot missiles at; to stone; to be tossed), from Proto-Germanic *turbōną (to fling, hurl), *turbijaną (to turn, twist) (whence Old English ġetyrfian (to assail with missiles; to assault, attack)), from Proto-Indo-European *derbʰ- (to spin, twist). Thus, the term as a whole may literally mean “having the top side thrown or turned down”.

The noun and verb are probably derived from the adverb and adjective.



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

  1. Backwards or upside down; also, having been overturned or upset.
    Synonyms: inverted, reversed; see also Thesaurus:upside down
    • c. 1597, [William Shakespeare], The History of Henrie the Fovrth; [], quarto edition, London: [] P[eter] S[hort] for Andrew Wise, [], published 1598, OCLC 932916628, [Act IV, scene i]:
      If we without his helpe can make a head / To puſh againſt a kingdome, with his helpe / We ſhal oreturne it topsie turuy down, [...]
    • 1742, John Winstanley, “A Child’s Answer to an Invitation; Done by His Father”, in Poems Written Occasionally [], Dublin: [] S. Powell, for the author, OCLC 78571001, pages 31–32:
      China, and Ganges, and Japan, / Are Words my Papa taught my Pen. He ſays, they're Countries to be found, / In a ſtrange World, below the Ground; / Where Folks with Feet erected treat, / And diſtant, downward hang their Head; / Fearleſs they topſy turvy run, / With naught beneath—but Skies and Sun.
    • 1749, Henry Fielding, “From which it May be Inferred, that the Best Things are Liable to be Misunderstood and Misinterpreted”, in The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, volume IV, London: A[ndrew] Millar [], OCLC 928184292, book XII, pages 231–232:
      [A]s 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 [pseudonym; Mary Ann Evans], “Mr Riley Gives His Advice Concerning a School for Tom”, in The Mill on the Floss [], volume I, Edinburgh; London: William Blackwood and Sons, OCLC 80067893, book I (Boy and Girl), page 35:
      [...] 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. (figuratively) Not in the natural order of things; in a disorderly manner; chaotically.
    • 1576, T[homas] R[ogers], “Of Loue”, in A Philosophicall Discourse, Entituled, The Anatomie of the Minde. [], London: [] I[ohn] C[harlewood] for Andrew Maunsell, [], OCLC 1121366737, folio 22, recto:
      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, and yet it doth ſo, as ſhalbe declared.

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

  1. Backwards or upside down.
    Synonyms: inverted, reversed
  2. (figuratively) Chaotic; disorderly.
    • 1675, William Penn, “The Ground or Reason of Swearing”, in A Treatise of Oaths, Containing Several Weighty Reasons why the People Call’d Quakers Refuse to Swear: [], [London: s.n.], OCLC 1227597255, page 10:
      [John] Chrysostom saith, An Oath came in when Evils increased, when men appeared unfaithful, when all things became Topsy Turvy.
    • [1872, [William] Wilkie Collins, “Lucilla’s Journal, Concluded”, in Poor Miss Finch. [], volume III, London: Richard Bentley and Son, OCLC 63963169, 2nd part, page 160:
      You have not kept her comfortable-easy. Something has turned her poor little mind topsy-turvies.]
    • 2020 June 3, Stefanie Foster, “Comment: The Recovery Starts here”, in Rail, Peterborough, Cambridgeshire: Bauer Media, ISSN 0953-4563, OCLC 999467860, page 3:
      It feels like I've stepped through the looking glass and am wandering in a topsy-turvy world where the fixpoints we have lived with for decades have gone. Not just moved … gone.

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topsy-turvy (countable and uncountable, plural topsy-turvies)

  1. (countable) An act of turning something backwards or upside down, or the situation that something is in after this has happened.
    • 1850, [Warren Burton], “Augustus Starr, the Privateer who Turned Pedagogue—His New Crew Mutiny, and Perform a Singular Exploit”, in The District School as It Was. [], revised edition, Boston, Mass.: Phillips, Sampson and Company, [], OCLC 557588922, page 159:
      Perhaps he was at a loss for the points of compass, as is often the case in tumbles and topsy-turvies.
  2. (countable, figuratively) A situation where the natural order of things has been upset.
    • 1849, C[alvin] H[enderson] Wiley, “Boyish Conversation”, in Roanoke; or, “Where is Utopia?” [], Philadelphia, Pa.: T. B. Peterson & Brothers, [], published 1866, OCLC 9948373, pages 110–111:
      [I ...] has seed a heap of scatterments and topsyturvies: here's hoping dat you all may swim smoofly along the briny waves of sacrificin' time, and ford the Jordan of destructive equinoxes, while fiery billows roll beneath!
    • 2006, Sue Robson, “Language, Communication and Thought”, in Developing Thinking and Understanding in Young Children: An Introduction for Students, Abingdon, Oxfordshire; New York, N.Y.: Routledge, →ISBN, page 114:
      The best-known examples of children’s nonsense language play, and their ‘topsy turvies’, or inversion of reality, are in Chukovsky, who asserts that such topsy turvies ‘strengthen (not weaken) the child’s awareness of reality’ [...].
  3. (uncountable, figuratively) Chaos, confusion, disorder.



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

  1. (transitive) To turn topsy-turvy or upside down; to invert.
  2. (transitive, figuratively) To throw into chaos or disorder; to upset.
    • [1854], G[eorge] E[liel] Sargent, “How the Legacy Went. In Two Chapters.”, in Moralities for Home, London: Groombridge and Sons. [], OCLC 15634084, chapter II (How It Departed), page 148:
      [...] Mrs. Sykes said, ‘her man was the wust she ever knowed when he got topsy-turveyed.’ And as now, he began to get topsy-turveyed pretty regularly before he had finished his daily business with the retiring host of the Holly Bush, there was not much peace at home.
    • 1858 July–December, J. A., “Prose versus Verse”, in The New Monthly Belle Assemblée; a Magazine of Literature and Fashion, [], volume XLIX, London: Rogerson and Tuxford, [], OCLC 6618599, page 188, column 1:
      Has not a diluent expletive been interjected to fill up a line? has not a plain proposition been topsy-turvied, till subject and object are miserably confused, because of accent?
    • 1865, Thomas Carlyle, “The Campaign Opens”, in History of Friedrich II. of Prussia, Called Frederick the Great, volume V, London: Chapman and Hall, [], OCLC 156109991, book XVIII, page 16:
      It is one among their many greater advantages from this surprisal of the enemy, and sudden topsy-turvying of his plans.
    • 1892, M[aurice] O’Connor Morris, “Introduction”, in Memini: Or Reminiscences of Irish Life, London: Harrison & Sons, [], OCLC 8964079, page ix:
      [M]y literary life was rather topsy-turveyed by a couple of untoward accidents last year, and a prostrating attack of influenza, and bronchitis subsequently, for the cure of which I am indebted to the climate of Portugal, [...]
    • 2007, “Portrayal of Diaspora Experiences”, in Basavaraj Naikar, editor, Indian English Literature, volume II, New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers & Distributors, →ISBN, page 195:
      Being from a lower caste, she earns her meager livelihood by cleaning the stairs and guarding the locality (the conventional roles are topsy turvyed).

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