The idiom get your head around something is probably a (dead) metaphor. If so, I'm wondering what the exact meaning of "around" is, literally. There are several senses of the preposition around. I am not sure which one is being referred to by this idiom.

Please go over the senses of around listed below:


Sense 5 seems to be a candidate:

on the other side of something, or to the other side of it without going through it or over it

I'd appreciate your help.

  • 1
    What makes you think this is a "dead" metaphor. It's in common use in AmE, at least. Jul 10, 2017 at 22:52

1 Answer 1


In the phrase "get your head around something", the meaning of around is "to surround" or to embrace, in a similar matter as you would put your hands around something or tie a rope around something.

  • Of so many senses listed, why would you choose that particular one?
    – Apollyon
    Jul 10, 2017 at 13:03
  • To get your head around X means to try to understand X. I picture X as something random or "wild" to your mind that you are trying to "capture" and analyze. Analyzing and understanding things frequently involves observation and planning and dealing with unknown/unpredictable-to-you things.
    – LawrenceC
    Jul 10, 2017 at 13:21
  • maybe the word "grasp" in the sense of "to understand" is an instance of this imagery?
    – Apollyon
    Jul 10, 2017 at 13:38
  • @Apollyon: Both He can't get his head around it and He can't grasp it are metaphoric usages, and as such they can carry different nuances. It's often the case that what you can't get your head around is something that simply doesn't fit your preconceptions, even though it might be quite a simple concept (you don't accept it). Whereas you often fail to grasp something either because it's too complicated or you're not smart enough (you don't understand it). Also, the "get one's head around" idiom is extremely informal, so use it with caution. Jul 10, 2017 at 14:38
  • 1
    @Apollyon: To repeat myself - it's a metaphor. Where your "head" metaphorically represents the kind of things that go on inside your skull (your thoughts, your preconceptions, etc.). As well as conflating physical heads with mental processes, the imagery here is also "spatial, locational". Thus when you absorb, take in, assimilate, grasp, etc. some information, it metaphorically gets "inside" you/your brain. If you don't understand it, you might say That's beyond me! (it's way outside what you can grasp, so you don't expect to be able to take it in). Jul 10, 2017 at 15:29

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