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American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms

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get on the bandwagon


get on the stick

Start working, as in I have to get on the stick and start preparing dinner. This synonym for GET

GOING or GET BUSY alludes to getting a car going by manipulating the gearshift, or stick. [Slang; early 1900s]

get on with it

hand. see GET ON, def. 6.

get out

1. Leave, escape, as in With good conduct he'll get out of prison in a few months, or In case of a fire, we just want to get out alive. [c. 1300] This phrase is also used as an imperative, ordering someone to depart. For example, Get out! You've no business being in here. [c. 1700] Also see

GET OUT OF, def. 1. 2. Become known, as in Somehow the secret got out. [Late 1800s] Also see OUT IN THE OPEN. 3. get something out. Publish something, as in Once we get out the newsletter, we can concentrate on other projects. [Late 1700s] 4. Produce a sound, as in The singer had a sore throat and could hardly get out a note. [First half of 1800s] Also see the subsequent idioms beginning with GET OUT.

get out from under

hand. see OUT FROM UNDER.

get out of

1. Emerge or escape from, as in I hate to get out of bed on cold mornings or He'll be lucky to get

out of this mess. [First half of 1500s] Also see GET OUT, def. 1. 2. Go beyond, as in The cat had climbed into the tree; she'd gotten well out of my reach. [First half of 1600s] Also see OUT OF CONTROL; OUT OF SIGHT. 3. Evade or avoid, as in He tried to get out of answering their questions, or Please get out of the way so we can pass. [Late 1800s] Also see OUT OF THE WAY. 4. Elicit or draw out something from someone. For example, I can't get a straight answer out of him, or Getting a contribution out of her is like pulling teeth. [First half of 1600s] 5. Get rid of something, remove, as in Get these cats out of the house, or I can't get this melody out of my head. Also see OUT OF ONE'S SYSTEM. 6. Extract from, obtain from. For example, You can get a lot of juice out of these oranges, or She got little or nothing out of this investment. It is also put as get the most out of, meaning "use to the greatest advantage," as in He gets the

most out of his staff. [Second half of 1600s] Also see GET A BANG OUT OF; GET A RISE


get out of one's face

hand. see under IN SOMEONE'S FACE, def. 2.

get out of one's system

hand. see OUT OF ONE'S SYSTEM.

get out of someone's sight

hand. see OUT OF SIGHT, def. 1.

get out of the way

hand. see OUT OF THE WAY.

get out while the getting is good

Leave while one can or has the chance to, as in He just had a good offer from a rival firm and decided to get out while the getting is good. This colloquial phrase uses GET OUT in the sense

of "escape" or "depart."

get over

1. Overcome, surmount, as in We have finally gotten over our biases. [Late 1600s] 2. Recover from, as in I just got over the flu, or I hope the children get over their parents' divorce quickly. [c. 1700] This usage sometimes appears as get over it, as on a bumper sticker following the 1992 presidential election: "Bush Lost, Get Over It." 3. Also, get over with. Complete, have done with, especially something unpleasant. For example, When I finally got the proofreading over, I was ready for a day off, or I'm glad to get all that dental work over with. It also is put as get it over with, as in I might as well sign the check and get it over with. The first usage dates from the late 1800s, the second from the early 1800s.

get physical

Make physical contact, either forcefully or sexually. For example, Stop pushing?

there's no need to get physical, or Thirteen is too young to get physical in that way. [Slang; second half of 1900s]

get ready Also, make ready. Become prepared or make preparations for something.

For example, It'll take me another hour to get ready for the painter, or Jane promised to make the room ready for our guests. [Late 1500s] Also see GET SET.

get real

Be realistic, understand what's going on, as in You think you'll win the lottery if you buy one ticket a week? Get real! [Slang; second half of 1900s]

get religion

Be converted; also, decide to behave in an upright, ethical way. For example, After the children were born, John got religion and joined the church, or After years of total selfishness, she suddenly got religion and is doing all kinds of volunteer work. [Second half of 1700s]

get rid of Also, be rid of. Eliminate, discard, or free oneself from. For example, It's time we got rid of these old newspapers, or He kept calling for months, but now we're finally rid of him. The first expression dates from the mid-1600s, the second from the 1400s. Also see GET OUT OF,

def. 5.

get right

Understand accurately or do correctly, as in If I get it right, you're not leaving until tomorrow, or The faucet works perfectly; the plumber finally got it right. [First half of 1900s]

get rolling

hand. see GET A MOVE ON.

get round

hand. see GET AROUND, def. 1 and 2.

get set

Prepare to go, as in Get set; the taxi's coming. This phrase is also a synonym for GET READY.

Also see under ALL SET.

get sick

1. Also, take sick or ill. Become ill, as in It's just my luck to get sick on vacation, or When was she taken ill? [Ninth century] 2. Become disgusted, as in We got sick as we learned how much money was wasted, or I get sick when I hear about his debts. [Early 1500s] Also see MAKE ONE

SICK. 3. Also, get sick to one's stomach; be sick. Become nauseated, vomit, as in If you eat any more candy you'll get sick, or Sick to her stomach every morning? She must be pregnant. [Early 1600s]

get someone's back up Also, get someone's dander up; put or set someone's back up.

Make angry, as in Bill's arrogance really got my back up, or The foolish delays at the bank only put her back up. Get one's back up and get one's dander up mean "become angry," as in Martha is quick to get her dander up. The back in these phrases alludes to a cat arching its back when annoyed, and put and set were the earliest verbs used in this idiom, dating from the 1700s; get is more often heard today. The origin of dander, used since the early 1800s, is disputed; a likely theory is that it comes from the Dutch donder, for "thunder." Also see GET SOMEONE'S GOAT;


get someone's goat

Annoy or anger someone, as in By teasing me about that article I wrote, he's trying to get my goat, but I won't let him. The origin of this expression is disputed. H.L. Mencken held it came from using a goat as a calming influence in a race-horse's stall and removing it just before the race, thereby making the horse nervous. However, there is no firm evidence for this origin. [c. 1900]

get someone's number Also, have someone's number. Determine or know one's real character or motives, as in You can't fool Jane; she's got your number. This expression uses number in the sense of "a precise appraisal." Charles Dickens had it in Bleak House (1853): "Whenever a person proclaims to you, 'In worldly matters I'm a child,' . . . that person is only crying off from being held accountable . . . and you have got that person's number." [Mid-1800s]

get someone wrong Misunderstand someone, as in I think you got him wrong. This expression is often put as Don't get me wrong, used to clarify one's feelings, views, or the like, as in Don't get me wrong?

I'm happy about the outcome. [Colloquial; c. 1900] Also see MAKE NO MISTAKE.

get something into one's head

hand. see GET INTO ONE'S HEAD.

get something on someone Also, have something on someone. Obtain or possess damaging knowledge about someone. For example, They hoped to get something on the candidate, or Once Tom had something on his boss, he knew he would not be pressured again. [c. 1920] Also see BE


get somewhere

Make progress. For example, The foundation has been laid, so we're finally getting somewhere.


get straight Also, have straight. Understand correctly or make something clear, as in Now let's get it straight?

you'll take over at four, or Do I have it straight about when you're leaving? This expression uses straight in the sense of "in proper order" or "not confused." [c. 1920]

get stuffed

An only slightly politer version of FUCK YOU. For example, When the taxi cut in front of

him, he yelled at the driver, "Get stuffed!" [Vulgar slang; mid-1900s]

get the advantage of Also, get or have the advantage over. Be in a superior position to, as in

He had the advantage over me, since I couldn't even remember his name, let alone his position.

[Mid-1500s] Also see GET THE BETTER OF; GET THE DROP ON.

get the air


get the ax Also, get the boot or bounce or can or heave-ho or hook or sack. Be discharged or fired, expelled, or rejected. For example, He got the ax at the end of the first week, or The manager was stunned when he got the boot himself, or We got the bounce in the first quarter, or The pitcher got the hook after one inning, or Bill finally gave his brother-in-law the sack. All but the last of these slangy expressions date from the 1870s and 1880s. They all have variations using give that mean "to fire or expel someone," as in Are they giving Ruth the ax? Get the ax alludes to the executioner's ax, and get the boot to literally booting or kicking someone out. Get the bounce alludes to being bounced out; get the can comes from the verb can, "to dismiss," perhaps alluding to being sealed in a container; get the heave-ho alludes to heave in the sense of lifting someone bodily, and get the hook is an allusion to a fishing hook. Get the sack, first recorded in 1825, probably came from French though it existed in Middle Dutch. The reference here is to a workman's sac (''bag") in which he carried his tools and which was given back to him when he was fired. Also see GIVE SOMEONE THE AIR.

get the ball rolling Also, keep the ball rolling. Start an undertaking; also, keep an undertaking from flagging. For example, Let's get the ball rolling by putting up some posters, or The hostess kept the ball rolling, talking to each of the guests in turn. This expression originated in one or another sport in which it was important to keep a ball moving. [Colloquial; late 1700s] Also see


get the better of Also, get the best of; have the better or best of. Become superior to or master someone or something; win out. For example, John's common sense got the better of his pride, and he apologized, or Her older sister was always trying to get the best of her, or He was determined to have the better of his competitors. [c. 1600] Also see GET THE DROP ON.

get the business

hand. see THE BUSINESS.

get the can

hand. see under GET THE AX.

get the drift Also, catch the drift. Understand the general meaning or purport. For example, I didn't get the drift?

do they want to go or not? or Over all the noise he barely managed to catch the drift of their conversation. The noun drift has been used for "purport" since the early 1500s.

get the drop on Also, get or have the jump on. Achieve a distinct advantage over someone, especially through early or quick action; get a head start. For example, Their book on electronic communication has the drop on all the others, or We really got the jump on the competition. The first of these slangy expressions dates from the mid-1800s and originally alluded to pointing one's gun at someone before he pointed his at you. It was transferred to more general use by about 1900. The second, which uses jump in the sense of "start," dates from about 1900.

get the feel of Also, have the feel of. Become or be accustomed to or learn about; acquire skill in. For example, It took me a while to get the feel of the new car, or After a few

months Jack had the feel of his new position. This idiom transfers the sense of touch to mental perception. [Mid-1900s]

get the goods on Also, have the goods on. Acquire or possess confidential information about someone, especially of a damaging or incriminating kind. For example, "Trouble is, they've got the goods on me" (Owen Johnson, The Lawrenceville Stories, 1909). [Slang; 1870s]

Also see GET ON ONE.

get the hang of

Learn the proper way of doing, using or handling something; acquire the knack of something. For example, I finally got the hang of this computer program. [Colloquial; mid-1800s]

get theirs

hand. see GET ONE'S.

get the jump on

hand. see GET THE DROP ON.

get the lead out Also, get the lead out of one's feet or pants. Hurry up, move faster. For example, Get the lead out of your pants, kids, or we'll be late, or, even more figuratively, Arthur is the slowest talker?

he can't seem to get the lead out and make his point. This expression implies that lead, the heaviest of the base metals, is preventing one from moving. [Slang; first half of 1900s]

get the message Also, get the picture. Understand or infer the real import or substance of something. For example, He gestured to the waiter, who got the message and brought the bill, or Kate got the picture and decided to keep her mouth shut about the error. [Mid-1900s] Also see


get the most out of

hand. see GET OUT OF, def. 6.

get the nod Receive approval or assent, as in, The contestant got the nod from the judges.

Similarly give the nod means "to show approval or assent." These expressions allude to the quick inclination of the head to indicate approval. [First half of 1900s]

get the picture

hand. see under GET THE MESSAGE.

get there

Achieve success, as in He always wanted to be a millionaire, and he finally got there. In this expression, there indicates one's goal. The participial form of this phrase, getting there, means "making progress toward a goal," as in I haven't finished the book, but I'm getting there. [Late

eager to get the show on the road. This synonym of

1800s] Also see GET SOMEWHERE.

get the runaround

Be treated evasively or misleadingly, especially in response to a request. For example, Every time I ask about next year's plans I get the runaround. The related expression give the runaround means "to treat evasively or misleadingly," as in He gives her the runaround whenever she asks for time off. [Early 1900s]

get the sack

hand. see under GET THE AX.

get the show on the road

Start an undertaking; begin work. For example, After months of training, the astronauts were

GET GOING alludes to a theatrical production going on tour. Also see GET THE BALL ROLLING.

get the upper hand

hand. see UPPER HAND.

get the worst of it Also, have the worst of it. Be defeated, experience a disadvantage, or suffer the most harm. For example, In any argument Joe usually gets the worst of it, or If we play the last three games as scheduled, our team is bound to have the worst of it, or The car got the worst of it, and no one was hurt. These phrases survive many older ones (such as go to the worst and come by the worst) in which worst is used in the sense of "defeat," a usage dating from about 1500. Also see GET THE BETTER (BEST) OF.

get through

1. Reach the end, finish, complete, as in Now that our computer system is working again, I should get through by midafternoon. It is also put as get through with, as in As soon as we get through with painting the kitchen, I'll call you. [Mid-1600s] 2. Succeed in passing or surviving something, as in This epidemic is awful, but I'm sure we'll get through it somehow. [Mid-1700s] 3. Also, get through to someone. Make contact with or reach someone, as in After trying to reach them all night, we got finally through, or He tried to get through to the family. [Late 1800s] 4. Also get through to. Make oneself understood, as in Am I getting through to you? [Colloquial; mid-1900s]

get through one's head

Understand, believe, or be convinced. For example, Bill cannot get it through his head that John is moving out.

get through to

hand. see GET THROUGH, def. 3 and 4.

getting there

hand. see under GET THERE.

get to

1. Arrive at, reach, as in When we get to the store we'll talk to the manager. 2. Begin doing something or start to deal with something. For example, We got to reminiscing about college days, or Let's get to this business right now. [Mid-1800s] 3. Bribe someone, as in We're sure the dealer got to one of the narcotics agents. [Slang; 1920s] 4. Influence or affect, especially adversely, as in

This loud music really gets to me, or Mother's crying always gets to him. [Colloquial; 1960s] Also


get to first base Also, reach first base. 1. Succeed in the initial phase of something; meet with preliminary approval. For example, They were delighted that they'd gotten to first base in the negotiations. This term alludes to the first base of baseball, which is the first step toward scoring a run for the batter's team. [c. 1900] 2. Reach the initial stage of sexual intimacy, such as kissing. For example, Mary is so shy that I can't even get to first base with her. [1920s]

get together

1. Accumulate, gather, as in Go get all the firewood together. [c. 1400] 2. Come together, assemble, as in Let's get together next week. The variant get together with means "meet with someone," as in I can't get together with them today but I'll have time next week. [Late 1600s] 3. Arrive at an agreement, as in The jury was unable to get together on a verdict. 4. get something

or oneself together. See under GET ONE'S ACT TOGETHER.

get to one's feet Also, get on one's feet. Stand up, as in They all got to their feet when the President came in. [Early 1700s]

get to the bottom of

Find the basic underlying quality or cause of something. For example, He was determined to get to the bottom of the problem. [Late 1700s] Also see AT BOTTOM.

get to the heart of

Find or determine the most important or essential facts or meaning. For example, It's important to get to the heart of the matter before we make any decisions. The noun heart has been used in the sense of "a vital part" since the early 1500s.

get to the point


get tough with

Become harsh, severe, unyielding with someone. For example, We have to get tough with these people or we'll get nowhere. [c. 1930]

get under someone's skin

1. Irritate someone, as in She really knows how to get under my skin with her nagging. This expression no doubt alludes to burrowing or stinging insects that cause itching or similar skin irritations. [Late 1800s] 2. Obsess someone or affect someone's deep feelings, as in Jean's really gotten under his skin; he misses her terribly. Cole Porter used this sense in his love song, "I've Got You Under My Skin" (1936).

get up

1. Arise from bed; also, sit or stand up. For example, Once I get up and have coffee, I'm ready to work. One of Irving Berlin's earliest hit songs was "Oh! How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning" (1918). [Mid1300s] 2. Ascend, mount, as in I hate to get up on a ladder. [First half of 1500s] 3. Create or organize, as in She got up the petition against zoning. [Late 1500s] 4. Dress or adorn, as in She plans to get herself up in a bizarre outfit. This usage is most often put in the form of the past participle (got up), as in The wedding al

bums were got up with ruffles and lace. [Late 1700s] 5. Draw on, create in oneself, as in I finally got up the nerve to quit, or Joe got up his courage and told the boss he was leaving. [Early 1800s]

Also see GET SOMEONE'S BACK UP; also see the subsequent idioms beginning with GET UP.

get up one's nerve

hand. see GET UP, def. 5.

get up on the wrong side of bed

Be in a grouchy, irritable state, as in What's got into Max today? Did he get up on the wrong side of bed? This expression alludes to the ancient superstition that it was bad luck to put one's left foot down first, and was so used in a number of 17th-century plays. By the early 1800s it was associated more with ill humor than misfortune.

get up steam

Prepare to work hard, summon up energy. For example, If we can just get up steam we can finish in no time. This expression alludes to producing enough steam to work an engine. [Early 1800s]

Also see under FULL SPEED AHEAD.

get used to


get well

Recover from illness, as in I hope you get well soon. This idiom uses well in the sense of "in good health," a usage dating from the mid-1500s.

get what's coming to one

Receive what one deserves or is due, especially something unpleasant, such as a punishment or rebuke. For example, When they suspended Steve for cheating, he was only getting what was

coming to him.

get wind of

Learn of; hear a rumor about. For example, "If my old aunt gets wind of it, she'll cut me off with a shilling" (William Makepeace Thackeray, in Paris Sketch Book, 1840). This expression alludes to an animal perceiving a scent carried by the wind. [First half of 1800s]

get wise to Also be wise to. See through the deception of; also, become aware of. For example, It took a while, but she finally got wise to Fred's lies, or I'm wise to the fact that her clothes come from a thrift shop. [Colloquial; mid-1800s]

get with it

hand. see WITH IT.


hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with GHOST, also see CHINAMAN'S (GHOST


ghost town

A once thriving town that has been completely abandoned, as in Many of the old mining communities are ghost towns now. This idiom implies that there are no living people left in town. [First half of 1900s]


hand. In addition to the idiom beginning with GIFT, also see LOOK A GIFT HORSE IN


gift of gab

Talent for verbal fluency, especially the ability to talk persuasively. For example, His gift of gab made him a wonderful salesman. [Late 1700s]

gilded cage

The encumbrances or limitations that often accompany material wealth, as in She had furs, jewelry, whatever money could buy, but was trapped in a gilded cage. This metaphoric expression indicating that riches cannot buy happiness was popularized (and possibly coined) in a song, "A Bird in a Gilded Cage" (1900; lyrics by Arthur J. Lamb, music by Harry von Tilzer), about a young girl marrying for wealth instead of love and paying for luxury with a life of regret.

gild the lily

Add unnecessary adornment or supposed improvement. For example, Offering three different desserts after that elaborate meal would be gilding the lily. This expression is a condensation of Shakespeare's metaphor in King John (4:2): "To gild refined gold, to paint the lily . . . is wasteful and ridiculous excess." [c. 1800]