Heads or tails and can’t make heads or tails

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Heads or tails refers to the two sides of a coin. When a decision must be made with two equally viable answers, or two people disagree and must find an equitable way to choose between two answers, a coin may be flipped. As one person tosses the coin in the air, the other person calls either heads or tails. Heads refers to the side of the coin with a person’s head on it. Tails refers to the opposite side, not because there is a tail on it, but because it is the opposite of heads.

Can’t make heads or tails of refers to something confusing, something not understandable. The phrase may have its beginnings all the way back in Ancient Rome, in a phrase used by Cicero, ne caput nec pedes which means neither head nor feet, referring to a state of confusion. The plural form, can’t make heads or tails of, is the American English form. British English trends toward a singular form, can’t make head or tail of.


Suppose we model the tournament by replacing basketball games with coin flips, except with coins that don’t land evenly heads or tails but rather are weighted to reflect each game’s actual odds. (UPI)

It’s a classic tale of underdog vs shoe-in, and the best of guesses are may be no more accurate than calling heads or tails; it’s all up in the air. (The Decaturian)

“We couldn’t make heads or tails of what we were being told,” she said. (The Daily Breeze)

If you can’t make heads or tails of the list, simply turn off each gadget one by one (or just disable the gadget’s Wi-Fi ) to figure out what is what. (The Monroe News Star)

Many reporters, and a majority of South Koreans, could not make heads or tails of the commentators’ analysis. (The New York Times)