The phrase is used around the world and can be applied to many different situations. It’s common and accepted enough that it may be used in friendly/casual and professional situations. One might use it with their family members or with their boss and colleagues. “Get out of hand” is a helpful way of describing a degrading situation.
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“Get out of hand” Meaning
“Get out of hand” is an English idiom that’s used to describe something becoming chaotic or getting out of control.
The “hand” is a symbol of the control that one wants to have over something. When “it” gets “out of hand,” one loses that control. Imagine, for example, losing hold of a horse’s reigns. The horse bolts, causing chaos. The horse literally got “out of hand.” The phrase is more commonly used metaphorically. For example, one can use it to describe a fight that got way worse than it should’ve or a situation at work that escalated beyond one’s ability to reign it back in.
“Get out of hand” is believed to have originated somewhere in 16th century Britain. Like most idioms, it doesn’t have a clear origin. It’s unknown who first said it or why. It’s also unclear when it first appeared in print or what its original meaning was. Often, idioms like this one (proverbs as well) change meaning over time. Words can change, and the public may lose and gain interest in using the phrase in a particular way. It’s likely that this phrase evolved naturally from the idea that when one loses control of something physical, like an animal or job, it’s literally getting out of one’s hand.
When To Use “Get out of hand”
It’s possible to use “get out of hand” in a wide variety of situations. It can be used among friends, family members, and colleagues. The phrase is colloquial but not so much so that it’s ever going to offend someone. It’s a simple way of describing something getting out of control. One might use it as an exclamation, for example, “I can’t believe this got out of hand!” Or even as a warning, for example, “Be careful, or this may get out of hand.”
It’s common to see the phrase used when one is planning a confrontation with another person or is about to raise objections to something going on. They might want to argue their point, but it’s unlikely they want things to get “out of hand.”
- She couldn’t stop the fight from getting out of hand.
- After things got out of hand he left quickly.
- They let everything get out of hand.
- Once we started yelling at one another I knew things had gotten out of hand.
- My dad never let things get out of hand when he was in charge.
- Our boss continually watches things get out of hand and then reprimands us.
Why Do Writers Use “Get out of hand?”
Writers use “get out of hand” in the same way and for the same reasons that people use the phrase in everyday life. It’s possible to find it incorporated into a dialogue between two or more characters. One might also take note of it within a narrator’s description of a scene. They might be describing a fight and then say, “It was at that moment I knew things were getting out of hand.” Or, in another situation, a writer might have one character use the phrase as a warning. For example, “You really don’t want to let this argument get out of hand. You may say something you don’t mean.”
People use “get out of hand” in order to express their concern or intention that things get “out of hand.” One might comment on a situation, calling it “out of hand” and suggesting it’s chaotic.
It’s unknown where exactly “get out of hand” came from. It likely evolved naturally over time, originally in Britain. It could come from the fear and reality of losing one’s grip on a horse’s reigns and losing control of the animal.
Yes, “get out of hand” is an idiom. This means that without context, it’s hard, if not impossible, to understand if one hasn’t come upon the phrase before. Such is the case with all idioms.
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