be unable to make head or tail (out) of (something)

(redirected from somebody was unable to make head or tail of something)

be unable to make head or tail (out) of (something)

To fail or be unable to understand, decipher, or make sense of something in the slightest. We tried identifying the hieroglyphs on the ancient tablet, but they were so archaic that we were unable to make head or tail of it. See if you can figure out what this contract is saying—I was unable to make head or tail out of all that legal mumbo jumbo.
See also: head, make, of, tail, to, unable
Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

make head or tail of something, to be unable to

To fail to understand something. This term was already used to denote total confusion by Cicero (Nec caput nec pedes, meaning “neither head nor feet”). Whether it refers to beginning or end, or top or bottom, or, as someone suggests, the two sides of a coin, is not known, but to make neither head nor tail of something has been so used ever since, in English from the seventeenth century to the present.
See also: head, make, of, tail, to, unable
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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