Clean Up Your Act

Meaning of Idiom ‘Clean Up Your (or one’s) Act’

To clean up your (his/her) act means to improve your behavior and begin acting in a more acceptable way. 1Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.,2Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.

Usage

“I got back together with Anthony,” said Laura. “He’s not drinking and I think he’s really cleaned up his act.”

“You’ll have to clean up your act if you expect to keep living here,” said the landlady.

“I used to have a gambling problem, but I cleaned up my act,” said Tom.

Origin

c. 1900 3Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.

Clean, in this expression, refers figuratively to putting things in proper order and act refers to one’s outward behavior or lifestyle, alluding to the act of a stage performer.

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Sources

Heacock, Paul. Cambridge Dictionary of American Idioms. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2010.
Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.
Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.