Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Legal, Financial, Encyclopedia.
Related to act out: act up
1. To behave poorly or inappropriately, especially considering one's age. My son is always so happy at home, so I can't understand why he's suddenly acting out at school. You're in middle school now, so if you act out in class, you will be sent to the principal's office.
2. To perform a role, often an imaginary one (as in a play). Jennifer did a superb job acting out the role of Auntie Mame in the play. I don't want to upset my mom during the holidays, so I am acting out the part of dutiful daughter.
3. To express one's negative feelings, usually to another person. I got tired of Mark constantly acting out his anger out on me, so I ended our relationship.
4. To communicate through actions or gestures instead of words. Henry was suffering from a severe case of laryngitis and had lost his voice, so he had to act out his thoughts during the meeting. There's no talking in this game—you have to act out the movie you're assigned, and we will try to guess it.
to behave badly. (Usually used to describe young people.) Your son has been acting out in the classroom, and his teacher feels that professional intervention is desirable.
act something out
1. to perform in real life a role that one has imagined in a fantasy. When I was onstage, I was really acting an old fantasy out. I acted out an old fantasy onstage.
2. to convert one's bad feelings into action rather than words. Don't act your aggressions out on me! She acted out her aggression.
3. to demonstrate or communicate something through gestures or action rather than words. Act your request out, if you can't say it. She had a sore throat and had to act out her request.
to behave badly because you are unhappy or upset These kids are very angry and act out because their lives are a mess.
Etymology: based on the idea of acting out a story (telling a story through physical actions)
1. Perform or portray something or someone, as in As she read to the class, the teacher had each child act out a different character in the story . [c. 1600]
2. Express unconscious feelings or impulses through one's behavior, without being aware of it. For example, She acted out her anger at her father by screaming at her husband. This meaning comes from 20th-century psychological theory and usually (but not always) refers to negative or hostile impulses and emotions. The term is sometimes used without an object to mean "misbehave" or "behave disruptively," as in The child is acting out in class. [First half of 1900s] In both usages, out means "openly" or "publicly."
1. To communicate something through actions rather than words: In a game of charades, you describe words by acting them out. One comedian acted out simple phrases, and the other one tried to guess what they were.
2. To play some role: The first graders acted out the roles of the villagers in the school play.
3. To fulfill some role: Though they no longer trusted him, they continued to act out their parts as good wife and daughter.
4. To express some feeling or emotion behaviorally, especially unconsciously: I understand why you're angry, but I don't like the way you're acting out your aggression toward me.
5. To demonstrate bad behavior or negative feelings: The student was upset after losing the game and began to act out in class.