Get a Handle On – Meaning & Origin

Photo of author

Candace Osmond

Candace Osmond studied Advanced Writing & Editing Essentials at MHC. She’s been an International and USA TODAY Bestselling Author for over a decade. And she’s worked as an Editor for several mid-sized publications. Candace has a keen eye for content editing and a high degree of expertise in Fiction.

To have a handle or get a handle on something just means you’ve gained control over a really tough situation or difficult task. But when did this phrase come into use? Are there other expressions you could use instead? Sure, there are! I’ll tell you more about this common expression and even show you how to use it in a sentence.

What Does It Mean to Get a Handle on Something?

Get a Handle On – Meaning Origin 2

When you get a handle on something, you completely understand it or gain control over it. It’s usually used in situations where someone needs to manage or comprehend a complex problem or difficult task.

It’s like finally getting the hang of a challenging recipe or understanding a particularly tough chapter in a textbook.

It took me several years and lots of practice to finally get a handle on how to properly write and publish a book. But once I figured it out, it was easy peasy after that!

But the phrase can also be applied to more physical situations, like moving furniture. You need to have a good handle on your end of the couch if you want to get it from the moving truck to your living room!

Origin and Etymology Behind the Saying Get a Handle On It

Get a Handle On It Ngram
Get a handle on it usage trend.

There’s no definitive origin for the phrase get a handle on it. But it likely came about from sports like football, where it’s hard to keep hold of the ball. Sportscasters would have used the saying to describe a player needing to keep the ball in their hands to win or catch a pass.

It’s like the handle on a cup. It lets you hold it without burning your fingers. So, having a handle on something means you can deal with it effectively.

Synonyms to Use for Get a Handle On It

Tired of using get a handle on it all the time? Don’t fret, there are tons of alternative ways to say the same thing without actually saying it.

  • Master it
  • Get a grip on it
  • Understand it
  • Get the hang of it
  • Grasp it
  • Pull yourself together
  • Get it under control
  • Learn the ropes
  • Figure it out

How to Use “Get a Handle on” in a Sentence

Get a Handle On – Meaning Origin 3

  • I need to get a handle on my finances before I can even think about buying a house.
  • Once I got a handle on the software, I was able to finish the website project quickly.
  • She struggled initially but finally got a handle on the new language and felt comfortable starting a life there.
  • We need to get a handle on this annoying neighbor situation before it escalates.
  • After dozens of practice sessions, John was finally able to get a handle on playing the guitar.
  • The publishing team struggled to get a handle on the new procedures at first but finally got the hang of it.
  • Dave finally got a handle on his emotions after the big breakup with Nancy.
  • It took me a while to get a handle on my new job responsibilities, but now it’s super easy.
  • When she got a handle on her time management, Jane’s productivity skyrocketed.
  • It’s crucial to get a handle on your stress levels for your overall well-being.

Getting a Grip on Your Language Skills

Now you should be all set to use the idiom get a handle on it like a pro. This versatile phrase, with its origins in the practical world, is a handy idiom to use in conversations and in writing. You can convey the idea of control or understanding with ease and flair. Study all my other guides to expand your mind!

Want to know more idioms? Check out some others we covered: