James Somers has a good analysis of “it turns out,” beginning by saying that Paul Graham knows how to use the phrase: “He works it, gets mileage out of it, in a way that other writers don’t. That probably sounds like a compliment. But it turns out that ‘it turns out’ does the sort of work, for a writer, that a writer should be doing himself.” He goes on to explain convincingly what he’s talking about, concluding:
In other words, because “it turns out” is the sort of phrase you would use to convey, for example, something unexpected about a phenomenon you’ve studied extensively—as in the scientist saying “…but the E. coli turned out to be totally resistant”—or some buried fact that you have recently discovered on behalf of your readers—as when the Malcolm Gladwells of the world say “…and it turns out all these experts have something in common: 10,000 hours of deliberate practice”—readers are trained, slowly but surely, to be disarmed by it. They learn to trust the writers who use the phrase, in large part because they come to associate it with that feeling of the author’s own dispassionate surprise: “I, too, once believed X,” the author says, “but whaddya know, X turns out to be false.”
Readers are simply more willing to tolerate a lightspeed jump from belief X to belief Y if the writer himself (a) seems taken aback by it and (b) acts as if they had no say in the matter—as though the situation simply unfolded that way.
It turns out, though, that (as pointed out by a couple of commenters) Douglas Adams expressed the same thought in The Salmon of Doubt:
Incidentally, am I alone in finding the expression ‘it turns out’ to be incredibly useful? It allows you to make swift, succinct, and authoritative connections between otherwise randomly unconnected statements without the trouble of explaining what your source or authority actually is. It’s great. It’s hugely better than its predecessors ‘I read somewhere that…’ or the craven ‘they say that…’ because it suggests not only that whatever flimsy bit of urban mythology you are passing on is actually based on brand new, ground breaking research, but that it’s research in which you yourself were intimately involved. But again, with no actual authority anywhere in sight.
(Via Geoff Pullum at the Log.)