The phrase, “turn over a new leaf”, means to make a new start. It is implied that the new start will be an improvement. Webster’s defines “turn over a new leaf” as “to make a radical change, especially for the better, in one’s way of living or doing.”

While I have not done any historical research on the origins of “turn over a new leaf”, I believe the idiom started because the word “leaf” is used to refer to any flat sheet, especially the pages of a book. (Have you ever “leafed” through a magazine?) Before the invention of the printing press, manuscripts had to be copied out by hand. Copying was performed by monks, whose education and contemplative lifestyle lent themselves to this mission. Copying a single manuscript was a huge task. Doing so beautifully and without error required great skill and discipline. Imagine a frustrated novice with ink stained fingers who is facing a page full of errors, too many to ignore and impossible to correct. Along comes an experienced Brother. He puts his hand on the novice’s shoulder and gently says, “Turn over a new leaf. Start again. And don’t be so hard on thyself.”

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