To look the other way
What does it mean?
If you look the other way, you ignore something that someone else is doing which you should stop or report. For example, a manager in a clothes shop could look the other way while one of the employees lets a friend use their employee discount. Another example is when the police look the other way if someone is committing a minor offence if this person is informing the police about much bigger crimes.
Where does it come from?
The earliest known use of this phrase in the idiomatic sense of ignoring something seems to be Mark Twain’s 1897 work Following the Equator.
How can I use it?
One way to use this phrase is to give the instruction i.e.
- look the other way
This could be as advice, if someone is asking you what they should do when they have seen someone acting wrongly. It could also be a request or direction to someone to ignore something which you are doing.
We might talk about our ability or willingness to look the other way. This might include phrases such as:
- I can’t just look the other way;
- I’m happy to look the other way;
- I refuse to look the other way.
This phrase can be quite common in conditional sentences, for example:
- if he is guilty, I won’t look the other way;
- if I saw someone stealing, I wouldn’t look the other way;
- if I had been there, I wouldn’t have looked the other way.
This phrase can also be used in other hypothetical or speculative structures such as:
- they thought they would look the other way;
- I don’t think they’ll just look the other way.
We often use this phrase to accuse an authority of not taking action. In this case we will likely use words and phrases such as “continue” or “once again” to show this is a persistent problem. For example:
- The federal tax department continue to look the other way;
- Once again, the police looked the other way rather than deal with the growing crime rate.
What are some examples?
- I’m happy to look the other way when a child in my class uses their phone if they are behaving themself.
- I’m sorry, but I can’t just look the other way. You’ve made a huge mistake and it needs to be reported.
- It was a mistake to invade. They thought the Russians would just look the other way.
- Unrest has been growing as the tax authorities continue to look the other way to tax evasion by large corporations.
What are some similar or related expressions?
- turn the other cheek
- fall on deaf ears
- pay lip service