Number one for English language teachers

Your English: Idioms: back

Type: Article

Think you know idioms like the back of your hand? Tim Bowen refuses to turn his back on these tricky expressions.

‘After going 2-0 down in the first ten minutes, Rangers had their backs to the wall’. In other words, they found themselves in a very difficult situation, needing to work or fight very hard to turn it round.

If you are on someone’s back, you are always criticising them or telling them what to do, as in ‘I wish he’d get off my back for a while’.

If you do something behind someone’s back, you do something bad or unkind without them knowing about it, as in ‘The kids were always making fun of him behind his back’.

If you are glad or pleased to see the back of someone, you are happy because you no longer have to deal with them or put up with them, especially if they are annoying or unpleasant, as in ‘They’d been staying with us for over three weeks. I was glad to see the back of them’.

When you know a place very well or you know how to get there easily, you can say that you know it like the back of your hand, as in ‘I can show you round. I know London like the back of my hand’ but a place that is extremely remote is known as the back of beyond.

If you turn your back on someone, you refuse to accept them or you ignore them, but if something happens when your back is turned, it happens when you are not there or when you are not paying attention, as in ‘As soon as my back was turned, the kids started fighting again’.

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