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Is "get the run around" a US idiom or is it widely understood throughout the English-speaking world?

I'm an American and recently I was in Argentina making a domestic flight connection from Buenos Aires to another Argentinian city. My flight's gate-time was repeatedly delayed (we finally left 6 hours late) and when I asked gate attendants and other airline staff what the problem was and when the plane would arrive at the gate I either got conflicting answers, or was referred to other staff who kept referring me to others, etc, with no useful information. I sometimes got the sense they knew more than they were saying. I could see on the departure/arrivals board that many flights were affected. (the next day I found out in the news that there had been a short air traffic controllers' strike).

In the US we call the experience I had with the airline staff "getting the run around". I'm writing an email to an Australian friend in which I want to describe my experience and my question is, is "getting the run around" an idiom that is understood throughout the English-speaking world or is it unique to America? Is there another widely-used expression that might substitute? Is there an Australian slang or idiomatic phrase that expresses my experience?

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  • I try to avoid getting the runaround by telling people right up front: Don't give me the runaround! Commented May 4, 2017 at 17:55
  • I've always known it (in GB), and I can easily imagine hearing it in an Aussie accent, so I'd say it's probably well-known everywhere. Besides which, the meaning would be pretty transparent in any normal context even if you hadn't heard it before. And it's obviously taken off in written BrE since the early 60s. Certainly easier to throw in than something like I got passed from pillar to post. Commented May 4, 2017 at 18:03
  • Remember those old silent movies where the guy runs in a room then out another room and then the cops come after him from another (or the re-enactment of such in cartoons like Loony Toons and Scooby Doo). I think anywhere people watched any of those "the run around" will be understood. Commented May 4, 2017 at 21:00
  • Yes it's popular idiom over here in the UK.
    – Gary
    Commented May 5, 2017 at 0:15
  • I think it works in any dialect, and I also think run-around should be hyphenated. Commented May 25, 2017 at 19:59

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Don't worry, an Australian English speaker like me will know precisely what you mean.

The more common formulation in Australia is probably "giving" rather than "getting" (as in, "The airline company is giving me the run around") but the "getting" formulation is used too.

For example, this post on a common Australian consumer forum is complaining about an Aussie telephone company giving someone "the run around" and the site has other posts that use that expression too.

Note that we are all using "run around" in two words but as a single noun it probably should be hyphenated or used as a single word "runaround", as the following entries put it.

The Online Etymology Dictionary has this entry that suggests a 1915 origin for the use of "runaround" as a noun in this way, although does not mention where in the English-speaking world it first arose:

runaround (n.) also run-around, "deceptive, evasive treatment," 1915, from verbal phrase, from run (v.) + around (adv.).

The Collins Dictionary online puts it in both British and American English and notice the usage graph suggesting a slightly later origin for runaround.

Finally, you ask if there are any Australian expressions you might substitute. I can't think of one - the phrase is just perfect as it is mate!

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