Get one’s act together is an idiom with an uncertain origin. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase, or phrasal verbs that have a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. These figures of speech or literary devices often use descriptive imagery; common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often colloquialisms or descriptors that are spoken or are considered informal or conversational. An idiom may be a euphemism, an understatement or exaggeration, or an expression of irony or hyperbole. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase or expression that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions that native speakers understand such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, chin up, eye to eye, barking up the wrong tree, bite the bullet, red herring, hit the nail on the head, kick the bucket, blow off steam, jump on the bandwagon, piece of cake, hit the sack, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. It is possible to memorize a list of idioms, but it may be easier to pay attention to the use of idioms in everyday speech, where peculiar imagery will tell you that the expressions should not be taken literally. We will examine the meaning of the idiomatic phrase get one’s act together, where it may have come from, and some examples of its use in sentences.
To get one’s act together means to get organized, to make a plan and carry it out, to get serious and apply oneself to the matter at hand. The phrase get one’s act together is usually used when a person has been scatterbrained, lazy, or inefficient. The idiom get one’s act together came into use in the 1960s, but has an uncertain origin. Certainly, it has something to do with readying for a performance, the word act referring to a routine performed before an audience. Perhaps it refers to the idea put forth in William Shakespeare’s play, As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players…” Related phrases are gets one’s act together, got one’s act together, gotten one’s act together, getting one’s act together.
As a pastor, I often hear the same story in different places that usually begins with something like this: “I believed that in order for me to attend worship (with a particular congregation) that I must first get my act together, to get clean, to remove all sin from my life.” (The Longview News-Journal)
The magistrate overseeing the trial of former homicide detective Gary Jubelin has encouraged NSW police to “get their act together” after new statements from new witnesses seemed to “magically appear” after the hearing had begun. (The Australian)
But Duncanville coach Reginald Samples said it wasn’t until the last third of the season that Rakestraw finally bought into what the coaches were saying and got his act together off the field. (The Dallas Morning News)