Turning in – “Du bist dran” ain’t one to one

So a construction I learned very early on came up again today. It’s the German statement, “Du bist dran.”

This is typically translated as, “It is your turn.” Notice, the construction is rather different from English. “Dran” is a contraction of “daran”, so that makes some sense. However, that still leaves some confusion.

“Du bist daran.” – “You are on/in/alongside (that).”
“Ich bin daran.” – “I am on/in/alongside (that).”

Okay, that kind of works. It sounds a bit like, “You are up”, which can be used in place of, “It’s your turn.” I imagine it isn’t a perfect correlation, but it at least feels like something in English, so it’s a bit easier for me to comprehend. What are we on/in/whatever, though?

So this is an idiomatic structure. Googling, I get a link to the German Language Stack Exchange, where somebody asks about this specific question. It seems that this is short for “dran sein”, which is meant to reference the usage, “an der Reihe sein.”

“Du bist an der Reihe.” – “You are in the line.”

Okay, so we get an idea of how this works. It’s idiomatic, based on the idea of being in line for something. I can imagine that I’m standing in line and I am up next. The idiom makes sense for me now.

This gets me wondering. Why is it that we use, “It’s your turn”, in English? I did a brief search online and found some mixed results. Etymology Online’s entry for “turn” provides several etymological possibilities. Ultimately, the word seems to come from the Greek “tornos” – a lathe, tool for drawing circles. This has been changed and reinforced over the years by Latin, Old English, and Old French. I wonder when the concept of “taking a turn” came up. I couldn’t a specific reference to the meaning used here. I suspect it’s related to, “take a turn at the wheel”, either as a reference to a ship’s wheel or to working at a rotary wheel of some type. That said, there’s other possibilities. Reddit has an old thread about it, but as here, no definite conclusion came about.

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