In over one’s head or over one’s head

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The idioms in over one’s head and over one’s head differ by only one, small, preposition. However, this preposition makes the definitions of these two phrases totally different.  An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative definition that is not easily deduced from its literal meaning. Common idioms are used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered conversational. We will examine the meanings of the phrases in over one’s head and over one’s head, where they came from and some examples of their use in sentences.

In over one’s head is an idiom that means that someone is involved in something full of difficulty, something that is beyond that person’s ability to cope. To be in over one’s head means to be unable to deal with a situation. This may be referring to an attempt to achieve a certain social status, to complete a certain task, to land a certain job or to engage in a physical activity. Telling someone that they are in over their head may be considered derogatory or an insult, but in fact, it may simply describe the truth of a situation. English idioms are words and phrases that are derived from a number of situations. In over one’s head is a phrase that is understood to have originated with the idea of literally being in water that is too deep, first seen as an English phrase in the 1600s.

Over one’s head is an interesting phrase that has two figurative meanings and one literal meaning. Over course, the term over one’s head may simply refer to an item that is positioned somewhere above a person’s head in physical space. Over one’s head may also refer to a situation in which someone has difficulty comprehending something or doesn’t understand what is going on. Finally, over one’s head may describe a situation in which a customer or employee does not accept the authority of the person he is speaking to, and goes over his head in order to talk with a higher-ranking person. This often happens when two employees have an argument and need a third party to settle the disagreement, or it may involve a customer’s unpleasant experience and wish to have it resolved. In some cases, a customer is looking for a refund or exchange, but in other instances the customer is so incensed he is looking to fire or sack the employee that he has been dealing with. The idiomatic expression over one’s head also dates to the 1600s, and may refer to being in water that is too deep, or may refer to a hierarchy of people, depending on the usage.


“You should have recognized you were in over your head … you should have reached out for help.” (The Journal Times)

That your sister has been — and bless you for this phrasing, it’s perfect — “fighting the world since she was a little girl” does aptly convey your sense of futility, but it also suggests you’re in over your head in trying to help. (The Mercury News)

Boyle had got in over his head in relation to a drug debt and it was “not a case where he was street dealing” but was holding the drug and “facilitating others”, Mr French said. (The Herald)

Being induced doesn’t mean moms can’t have “natural childbirth” – they can forgo pain medicine or use a hospital’s homelike birthing center rather than delivering in “an operating room in a sterile suite with a big light over your head,” said the study leader, Dr. William Grobman, an OB-GYN specialist at Northwestern University in Chicago. (The Durango Herald)

She thought the novel was funny, although much of it went over her head, she said in a phone interview ahead of her visit to Raleigh on Sunday, June 18. (The Charlotte Observer)

Barnier said that any attempt by the UK to get a better deal by going over his head and appealing directly to EU leaders would be a waste of time. (The Guardian)