“Stab in the back,” “Back to the wall,” “Behind your back”: 6 Essential ‘Back’ Idioms (English Vocabulary Lesson) (2023)

On today’s episode of Thinking in English, let’s learn some useful idioms revolving around your ‘back!’

You may also like…

‘Ghost towns,’ ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous,’ and ‘Graveyard Shift’: Idioms and Phrases for a Spooky Halloween (English Vocabulary Lesson)

“Have Egg on Your Face,” “Put Your Foot in it,” and “Sheepish”: Idioms and Phrases for Embarrassing Situations!

“Feeling blue,” “Crying Crocodile Tears,” and “Down in the Dumps”: Excellent Sadness Idioms!! (English Vocabulary Lesson)

“When pigs fly:” Essential English Idioms, Expressions, and Proverbs! (English Vocabulary Lesson)

(If you can’t see the podcast player CLICK HERE to listen!!)

In recent months I have released a lot of idiom content to help all of you improve your vocabulary and learn some expressions commonly used in English conversations. Such as my episode on idioms to describe the emotions of sadness, embarrassment, and happiness, my Halloween episode on spooky idioms you can use all year round, and many others!

On today’s episode, let’s learn some idioms to do with your ‘back’. In this context, ‘back’ refers to the body part; the rear part of the human body, from your shoulders to your hips. There are many idioms in English that use the ‘back’: in researching this episode I remembered at least 20! However, for the sake of time I will just focus of 7 of my favourites!

As I have been quite ill over the last few days, I haven’t had time to write and prepare longer episodes recently. However, hopefully things will be back to usual soon and I will return to my usual schedule of uploads! Anyway, without further ado, here are today’s ‘back’ idioms!

Behind (one’s) back

If you do something behind someone’s back you do it secretly and without that person’s knowledge. Behind someone’s back is almost always used in a negative way, to describe something that is unfair or dishonourable. We often use the phrases talk behind someone’s back and laugh behind someone’s back to reference conversations that happen without someone’s knowledge! However, any kind of action can be done behind someone’s back.

“He will be upset that you made the decision behind his back”

Cover (one’s) back

If you do something to cover your back, you do something in order to protect yourself against criticism, accusations, or other things that could harm you. Covering your back means to avoid being blamed for something, to avoid responsibility for a negative thing, and to prevent potential negative consequences. There are many ways to cover your back, depending on what you want to distance yourself from. For example, business executives may cover their backs from accusations of wrongdoing by giving other people full responsibility instead. The opposite of covering your back is “leaving yourself wide open to something.”

“Whenever you make an agreement, you should cover your back by getting everything in writing”

Back to the wall

Have you ever had your back to the wall? I know I have! Back to the wall or back against the wall is an idiom meaning that you are in a bad or high-pressured situation in which your ability to act or make decisions is limited. The term was originally used for armies making their final effort or last stand. Now, it refers to any difficult situation, from which you cannot easily escape. I had my back to the wall a few months ago when I had multiple research papers and proposals due in the same week that I moved countries at very short notice.

“The bank has me with back against the wall: I have no choice but to ask my friends for help to pay my debt”

Scratch (one’s) back

If you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours! You may have heard this phrase before in TV shows or movies – it is quite well known. If you scratch someone’s back you do that person a favour in hopes that they will return a favour to you. In other words, you do something nice, generous, helpful, or beneficial for someone. In return, you expect or hope that they will do something similar for you! A journalist may scratch a politician’s back with the hope that they could get some secrets in the future, a businessman may scratch his potential client’s backs to make sure they become real clients, or you may scratch your friend’s back so that they give you a lift to work.

If you do the laundry I’ll do the cooking-you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours

Stab in the back

A stab in the back, as a noun phrase, means a betrayal or act or treachery. As a verb phrase, to stab someone in the back means to betray someone’s confidence or trust. You are harming someone by betraying them, almost as though you really thrust a knife into someone’s back. Companies will act like your friend to get your business, but will stab you in the back when it makes financial sense. The leader of an organisation always has to be careful no one stabs them in the back in order to replace them.

“You shouldn’t trust her; she is always stabbing her friends in the back”

Watch (someone’s) back

If someone is trying to stab you in the back, then you need to watch your back or have someone watching your back. If you watch someone’s back you are committed and ready to help, assist, and defend that person. Or, in less serious cases, you will look out for them in case they need assistance. When my brother started at the same high school as me, my parents asked me to watch his back in case he got in any trouble. You can also watch your own back by protecting yourself from danger – that danger could be physical or figurative!

“You can always rely on your parent’sto watch your back!”

Check out my recent podcast episodes!

“Stab in the back,” “Back to the wall,” “Behind your back”: 6 Essential ‘Back’ Idioms (English Vocabulary Lesson) (1)

258. What is Racketeering? And Why Has Donald Trump Been Accused of it? (English Vocabulary Lesson)Thinking in English

7 Day FREE CONVERSATION CLUB TRIAL–https://www.patreon.com/thinkinginenglish⁠Thinking in English Bonus Podcast…. NOW ON SPOTIFY! – https://open.spotify.com/show/6gSPOxNCijMq2hTJW8tyx4?si=5b10f65bfcaf4971⁠Take a Class with Thinking in English! (Use code TRIAL50 for 50% off) – https://thinkinginenglish.link/——Donald Trump is being charged with racketeering in the US state of Georgia. What is racketeering? How serious are the charges? And why has Trump been accused of this crime? Let’s discuss these important questions in today’s episode of Thinking in English!TRANSCRIPT – https://thinkinginenglish.blog/2023/08/21/258-what-is-racketeering-and-why-has-donald-trump-been-accused-of-it-english-vocabulary-lesson/——My LinksENGLISH CLASSES – https://thinkinginenglish.link/NEW YOUTUBE Channel!!! – https://www.youtube.com/@thinkinginenglishpodcastINSTAGRAM – thinkinginenglishpodcast (https://www.instagram.com/thinkinginenglishpodcast/)Blog – thinkinginenglish.blog——Vocabulary Charges (plural n) – Formal accusations of wrongdoing, often leading to legal action. Legal case (n) – A matter that involves legal proceedings, typically in a court of law. Influence (v) – The power to affect or change something, often related to manipulation. Insurrection (n) – A violent uprising against authority or government. Criminal organisation (n) – A group engaged in unlawful activities, typically with a structured hierarchy. Racket (n) – A systematic scheme that carries out various criminal actions. Prosecutors (n) – Legal officials responsible for bringing criminal charges against individuals. Election interference (n) – Efforts to manipulate or influence election outcomes— Send in a voice message: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/thinking-english/messageSupport this podcast: https://podcasters.spotify.com/pod/show/thinking-english/support

  1. 258. What is Racketeering? And Why Has Donald Trump Been Accused of it? (English Vocabulary Lesson)
  2. 257. Which Country is the Best at Learning English? And What Can We Learn from Them? (English Vocabulary Lesson)
  3. 256. Leaving the UK? The Future of the Orkney Islands! (English Vocabulary Lesson)
  4. 255. The History of Women’s Football!! (English Vocabulary Lesson)
  5. 254. More Science Based Tips for English Learners!! (English Vocabulary Lesson)

Why not support Thinking in English?




Help to support the podcast by making a one-time donation! I would love to buy a new mic, and pay for a better blog/podcast host…

Help to support the podcast by making a monthly donation! I would love to buy a new mic, and pay for a better blog/podcast host

Help to support the podcast by making a yearly donation! I would love to buy a new mic, and pay for a better blog/podcast host…

Choose an amount










Or donate what you like!

Thank you so much for your donation! Reach out to me on Instagram, or by the contact form above, and I’ll be happy to thank you in person!

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly

Do you want to Think in English?

I’m so excited that you found my blog and podcast!! If you don’t want to miss an article or an episode, you can subscribe to my page!

Never miss an episode

Subscribe wherever you enjoy podcasts:

Liked it? Take a second to support Thinking in English on Patreon!

Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Delena Feil

Last Updated: 26/10/2023

Views: 5580

Rating: 4.4 / 5 (65 voted)

Reviews: 88% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Delena Feil

Birthday: 1998-08-29

Address: 747 Lubowitz Run, Sidmouth, HI 90646-5543

Phone: +99513241752844

Job: Design Supervisor

Hobby: Digital arts, Lacemaking, Air sports, Running, Scouting, Shooting, Puzzles

Introduction: My name is Delena Feil, I am a clean, splendid, calm, fancy, jolly, bright, faithful person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.