Listen to the author reading this blog post:
by Liz Walter
There are an extraordinary number of phrases containing the word ‘back’, so today’s post will pick out some of the most useful ones, all of which use ‘back’ in the sense of a part of the body.
Several phrases make use of the idea that if someone is behind you, you can’t see them so you don’t know what they are doing. For example, if you do something behind someone’s back, you do it without them knowing about it. Similarly, if you do something while someone’s back is turned, you do it when they are not able to see or notice you:
His staff started whispering about him behind his back.
As soon as her back was turned, we crept out of the room.
The idea of not being able to see what is behind you also features in some phrases to do with possible danger or harm. For instance, if someone tells you to watch your back, they mean that you should be careful because people around you may harm you, either physically or in other ways. If you cover your back, you make sure you can’t be blamed or criticized for something at a later time and if someone you trusted stabs you in the back, they harm you when you do not deserve it:
You need to watch your back because you’ve upset lots of people around here.
I sent the documents to my boss, just to cover my back.
When my friend told my parents my secret, I felt she’d stabbed me in the back.
Informally, if someone is on your back, they are constantly criticizing you or forcing you to do things, but if you get someone off your back, you manage to stop them behaving in this way. If you have your back to the wall, you have some very serious problems and you don’t have many options about what you can do:
My parents are always on my back about getting a job.
I gave him the money just to get him off my back.
She didn’t want to fire her employees but she had her back to the wall.
I’ll finish with two nice phrases. First, if you say that you could do something with one arm/hand tied behind your back, you mean that it is very easy. And second, you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours means that you will help someone if they help you:
My mum could make a cake like that with one arm tied behind her back.
There are plenty of ways we can help each other. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.
Do suggest any other ‘back’ phrases you know in the comments. Are there lots of phrases with ‘back’ in your own first language?
30 thoughts on “Watch your back! Idioms with the word ‘back’”
I personally love the idiom ‘know something like the back of your hand’, which means to have very good and detailed knowledge of something.
1. Back biting
2. Back seat driving
3. Back and forth
4. Back to square one
5. Back breaking (work, routine, etc)
to bite someone’s back.
İ think it’s the palm of your hamd not the back ?
No where I come from the saying is as written first. it is like the back of MY (your) hand. Not palm.
Nope, it’s “I know that like the back of my head” (I’m an idiot!)
Both ‘back’ and ‘palm’ are fine in this phrase.
What’s the meaning of “I have your back”?
Really nice phrases with the word „back“
What I thought of was „like water off a duck‘s back“.
I also like the phrase „back to back“. To do something in a row.
To back up a car is also a phrase you can use daily.
How about “with the wind at one’sback”?
Offended my back size:back size 55
In been being lame my back size is always for sale weights scales and shopping malls. 🧐🥳🙄
In the post, I only included ones with ‘back’ meaning the part of your body between your neck and your bottom, but yes, there are lots of other phrases with the word ‘back’, including more with that sense.
Gosh! If every British always spoke like that! English would be so easy to understand…you could get it with one hand tied behind your back, or maybe one ear 😉 (not sure if that usage is 100% correct;) )
“Cammin facendo s’aggiusta la soma”, in Italian, is a metaphor which means that even if at the onset of a given enterprise the load you are shouldering is unevenly distributed, in time – “cammin facendo”, i.e. “as you go” – it will even out. Your metaphorical back will be somewhat relieved, that is.
I adore the phrasal verb ‘back up’, however it’s not strongly related to the topic given!
“I know that Jesus Christ has our back”
I was takin’ a back when I stole his spine.
back to back contact
It’s rather surprising that no one has thus far thanked the author for embedding such a soothing transcript of the post!
How very sweet of her to do so!
Can never thank you enough, Liz Walter!!!
I’d been trying to cover my back by removing the word ‘transcript’, but unfortunately, I couldn’t! Pardon me, it ought to have been ‘audio’. Thanks again, Liz.
back and fill
it’s means to change one’s opinion or position; vacillate.
Dear Liz Walter
It is such a grand thing to hear the author reading the text;-)
I coudn’t possibly express how much I appreciate your amazing writing.
Please, keep it up.
To have someone’s back means to be willing and prepared to support or help someone. Like, don’t worry, I’ll have your back no matter what.
Btw, it’s great that this post has an audio version.
I’ve been learning in english for 1 years, and I acknowledge, cambridge dictionary deserve that it is tremendous.
Thank you Liz Walter,
As a person who’s English is my second language, this is very interesting and I love hearing your voice.
In my opinion the work “back” is being over used, English is such a beautiful and extensive language and I feel there are other words we can use instead of back
Thanks for all your kind comments on the audio recording, which is a new feature. My colleague Kate Woodford will be reading her posts too. Like most people, I hate the sound of my own voice (!) but it’s great to hear that it’s useful!
I suggest phrase “off the back of the lorry” ,which means you buy something that was stolen
That’s extremely useful because we can hear how it sounds when a native speaker reads the text. I’ve just loved this new feature and I’ll be checking new posts for sure. Thanks a ton!!
In India, ‘who has your back when in trouble?’ is rather common these days. I find it rather far-fetched. Could you tell us more?