I have only recently encountered "to be across", meaning "to understand fully". I have long been familiar with "to get across", of course.

It seems to be the recipient that corresponds to the giver of understanding (and it seems odd now that I think of it that "get" is the giver).

Is there a geographical or cultural context for the former that might explain why I have never heard it until now and why it has sounds odd to me?

  • 3
    I've never heard that phrase before either, and I agree, it sounds very odd.
    – p.s.w.g
    Aug 12, 2013 at 20:32
  • 1
    Can you give a sentence to show how this is used?
    – Mynamite
    Aug 12, 2013 at 20:44
  • @Mynamite It's in the linked document: "the legislation is mind-bogglingly complex and you really need to be across it".
    – p.s.w.g
    Aug 12, 2013 at 21:11
  • In the ODO entry linked from the question, the expression appears only in the British & World English entry, and not in the US English entry, but (as a Brit.) I've never 'come across' it.
    – TrevorD
    Aug 12, 2013 at 22:55
  • @p.s.w.g Thanks! - sorry, should have noticed that. Unfortunately it does me no good, I have never heard this expression.
    – Mynamite
    Aug 13, 2013 at 8:49

4 Answers 4


The Oxford Dictionary of Idioms defines "to be across something" as

fully understand the details or complexity of an issue or situation

and lists its origin as Australian.

I read it to mean that your mind fully spans or encompasses the details and ramifications of an issue, but the phrasing does have an Aussie flavor to it.

  • I've heard a Kiwi use it. Sounds really weird to my Brit ears.
    – ukayer
    Jun 30, 2015 at 22:56
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    In New Zealand, it seems to be used in business but not colloquial contexts. People say it all the time at my work but I've never heard anyone say it in relation to say, organising a family outing or something. It's always something like "Dave is across the proposed changes to our contingency plan for the next quarter..." etc. Oct 4, 2015 at 22:41
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    So to grok something. Jul 25, 2017 at 19:55
  • @MikeJRamsey56 Not quite. Grok is to know deeply; be across has a connotation of can-do (correlating with its business usage); knowing enough for the job, rather than exhaustively: "I've got this". Jul 4, 2018 at 1:17

Never heard that stateside. And I've met a lot of Aussies/Brits in NY... as well as a lot of ESL learners who masterfully learned British English. If you were to tell me you were across something, I would probably be very confused and think of you somehow splayed across it.

However, to be all over something (say, a project) or on top of something (prep work; training; reading; subject matter)... or up on (up to date with the state of affairs regarding) some subject matter, are all similar. So I would probably ask you to clarify.


I think it's entered UK language as business jargon, like 'going forward' etc. My boss says it constantly and it annoys me immensely! Just say 'do you understand?' or 'do you have it covered?' FFS!!!!


I am a 66 year old Australian and university educated. The first time I heard this expression, I was in my mid 40’s. The person using it was amazed that I’d never heard it. They were not originally from Melbourne or Victoria, like me, so I’m wondering if the expression came from another part of Australia, possibly further north. For example, Queenslanders call suitcases ‘ports’. And they call the evening meal ‘dinner’ whereas we in Victoria use the term ‘tea’ for the evening meal, and ‘lunch’ for the midday meal,and seldom use the word ‘dinner’. There are many other (minor) differences in language usage between different Australian states. But this expression definitely did not originate from Victoria.

  • 2
    Hello, Marg. Thanks for your contribution, but please note that the only upvoted answer above contains a linked/attributed supporting reference. ELU really wants such; you can add anecdotal 'comment's when you've reached sufficient rep. It's not that such comments as yours aren't germane, but 'answer's should convey an assurance of being based on a reasonable sample size. Please feel free to look round at the Help Center. Jan 2, 2020 at 14:14

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