It’s that time of the year when people start thinking about their New Year’s Resolutions. For the next couple of weeks you’ll probably hear the phrase to turn over a new leaf mentioned a lot. It might strike you as a strange phrase, so where does it come from?
First of all, it doesn’t actually refer to a leaf from a tree. It’s rather a meaning of the word leaf that doesn’t get used much anymore: a single sheet of paper in a book or magazine with a page on each side. So when we talk about turning over a new leaf, we’re talking about starting a new page or chapter in our lives, making it quite an apt metaphor. The origin of the phrase isn’t so apparent anymore though, as the word page tends to be used to mean both page and leaf, and also, when do you ever really need to refer to a leaf and not a page?
The concept of a single sheet with two pages being a leaf is also evident in the use of the word folio in the publishing industry, derived from the Latin word for leaf, folium. The term is still sometimes used to refer to a leaf in a book, specifically one with a number only on the front side. It was also used in the past to refer to a single sheet of paper folded in two to make four pages, or an early book made of large pages. One of the most famous such books is Shakespeare’s First Folio of 1623, which gathered together fairly intact texts of 36 of his plays, and is one of the most valuable sources of his work for scholars.
So, will you be making any New Year’s Resolutions? I haven’t thought of any yet: I’m one of those insufferable people who don’t usually make them, and try to be worthy in my habits all year round.