To get in over one's head (in)

James Brandon

Senior Member
English + French - UK
I am intrigued by this expression and its various meanings. I believe it should be 'heads' and not 'head's' in the example below.

1 Source: http://www.doggit.co.uk/blog/ (about choice of breed for dogs)

Quote: So many times I've seen people get in over their head's with a breed that's not right for them or a fantastic dog that they are just not prepared to deal with.

2
Source: FT: http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/85618ed2-7a0c-11e4-9b34-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3Shth9AEa (About hostage taking and how to solves those crises)

Quote: Domestic sieges are often triggered by affairs or feelings of betrayal. In such situations, he observes, people get in over their head. It is his job to give them a way out.

I have heard it but not that often. I was also wondering whether it is more BE than AE. Thanks for insight into precise meaning and usage.
 
  • Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    It seems fairly transparent to me, James. (And yes, of course the head(s) shouldn't have an apostrophe-s:D.)
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    I hear "to get in over your head" from time to time in the U.S., James. To me, it always means "to take on more than you were prepared for."

    I agree with you that "head's" in that example is a mistake. Other speakers don't seem to mind this use, but I would avoid the singular "head" if I was talking about a group of people: People get in over their heads and don't know what to do.

    Cross-posted with Loob.
     

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    So, basically, the person gets in (i.e. into a situation) over his (or her) head, i.e. following his or her emotions and feelings (his or her heart) as opposed to his or her reason (the head), but there also seems to be the idea that the person is not competent to make the right judgment anyway (i.e. even if he or she followed his or her judgment). Or it is a bit of both.
     

    owlman5

    Senior Member
    English-US
    Or it is a bit of both.
    "A bit of both" sounds right to me, James. The phrase can imply recklessness, incompetence, or both. If you don't know how to swim, you have no business in the deep end of the swimming pool.
     

    James Brandon

    Senior Member
    English + French - UK
    Yes, because I found an online article about social media or marketing where the contributor warned against the dangers of someone getting in over his head who was not qualified to do the job, because he'd only worked for a very small company (etc.). It was not a question of emotions but an issue of training or proficiency.

    I have just realised this expression has been covered before: http://forum.wordreference.com/showthread.php?t=984266
     
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