“Turnkey” has two meanings. The first, known from about 1647, is a person in charge of the keys of a prison. The second, known from the 1920s, is an adjective used to describe something that is “complete and ready to be used.”

A turnkey product indicates that the customer, upon receiving the product, just needs to turn the ignition key to make it operational, or that the key just needs to be turned over to the customer. 

Turnkey is commonly used in the home construction industry, for instance, where it means what we would call a “spec” house, built without home-owner involvement. If a contractor builds a “turnkey” or “spec” home, it finishes the building down to the cabinets and the carpet. The purchaser simply has to turn the key to the front door and walk into a house ready for occupancy.

Turnkey is also used to advertise the sale of an established business, including all the equipment necessary to run it, or by a business-to-business supplier providing complete packages for business start-up. An example is the creation of a “turnkey hospital,” which would be a complete medical centre with installed medical equipment.

Turnkey is also often used in the technology industry, most commonly to describe pre-built computer “packages” in which everything needed to perform a certain type of task (e.g. audio editing) is put together by the supplier and sold as a bundle. This often includes a computer with pre-installed software, various types of hardware, and accessories. Such packages are commonly called appliances. A website with a ready-made solutions and some configurations is called a turnkey website.

In commercial use, a building set up to do auto repairs would be defined as turnkey if it came fully stocked with all needed machinery and tools for that particular trade. The turnkey process includes all of the steps involved to open a location including the site selection, negotiations, space planning, construction coordination and complete installation. 

Turnkey real estate also refers to an investment property which is complete and producing a stream of income, like an apartment block.

It follows, then, that a frozen TV dinner could be called a “turnkey” meal. Which could cause some stuttering if it’s roast turkey.

  One thought on “turnkey

  1. Leanne Taylor
    January 23, 2021 at 5:29 pm

    I guess the first of many times I read the word “turnkey” was in Dickens’ Little Dorrit.

    Is a “locksman” the same as a “turnkey”?

    As to this:
    A turnkey roast turkey tv dinner?
    Nope. Not going to say it.
    Just typing that took careful concentration!
    Lol 🙂 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • January 24, 2021 at 9:51 am

      Yes, “locksman” is the same as a “turnkey.” But it also has a second meaning, “lockkeeper,” or someone who opens and closes locks on a river, first noted in 1792. No, and I wouldn’t want try saying that phrase either!


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