get a handle on something, to

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get a handle on something

INFORMAL
COMMON If you get a handle on a subject or problem, you understand it and know how to deal with it. When you have got a handle on your anxiety you can begin to control it. Note: You can also say that someone has a handle on a subject or problem to mean that they understand it and know how to deal with it. We don't really have a handle on why some people survive for longer periods than others.
See also: get, handle, on, something

get a handle on something, to

To succeed in dealing with a difficult problem. Dating from the mid-twentieth century, this slangy Americanism alludes to coping with a cumbersome object by attaching a handle to it. However, “handle” has been used both figuratively and literally in several ways for many years. “Most things have two Handles; and a wise Man takes hold of the best,” wrote Thomas Fuller in Gnomologia (1732). Further, “handle” has been a colloquialism for a title, and by extension a name, since about 1800. The current saying, on its way to becoming a cliché, thus can allude either to getting a secure hold on a slippery problem, or to identifying it correctly by naming it. A synonym for the former sense is get a grip on something, meaning to take a firm hold on it. See also get a grip.
See also: get, handle, on