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back and fill

1. To move a ship's sails in an alternating fashion to accommodate the wind in a narrow channel. We need to back and fill the sails in order to pass through this channel.
2. To be indecisive. You need to make a decision and stick to it—quit backing and filling!
See also: and, back, fill

back away

1. To move slowly and carefully away from something or someone. Kids, back away from the expensive vase! If you encounter a grizzly bear, back away slowly while talking in a normal tone.
2. To retreat on a particular idea or course of action. I think that Marie is backing away from the contract now. Management seems to be backing away from that initiative.
See also: away, back

back down

To retreat from a particular idea or course of action, often in a conflict. I refuse to back down—this law must be passed, in the interest of public safety. The bully backed down after all of my friends came with me to confront him.
See also: back, down

back into a corner

1. To force or be forced into a difficult or unpleasant situation that one cannot easily resolve or escape. A noun can be used between "back" and "into." My boss really backed me into a corner when he asked me to fire the CEO's daughter. Scott has been backed into a corner with this mortgage payment that he cannot afford.
2. To put oneself into a difficult or unpleasant situation that one cannot easily resolve or escape. In this usage, a reflexive pronoun is used between "back" and "into." I really backed myself into a corner when I agreed to go to two events on the same night.
See also: back, corner

back off

1. noun Go away! Stop bothering me! Back off! I told you I'm not going to the dance, and that's it! You need to back off, buddy. I've told you I'm not interested.
2. verb To retreat on a particular idea or course of action. Your aggressive approach is starting to annoy people—you need to back off a bit. Management seems to be backing off that initiative, at least for now.
3. verb To cause someone to retreat on a particular idea or course of action. In this usage, a noun is used between "back" and "off." Can you please back your minions off? They're harassing me.
4. verb To move backward away from something. Back off that other runner so you don't collide with her.
5. verb To move backward past the edge of something. If he's not careful, he's going to back off that narrow step.
See also: back, off

back the wrong horse

To support a person or an effort that fails. This expression refers to betting on horse races. You really backed the wrong horse when you picked that swimmer to win the race—he didn't even medal! Politicians who backed the wrong horse in the election are now trying to curry favor with the winning candidate—without much success.
See also: back, horse, wrong

back up

1. verb To move backwards. This phrase is commonly used to refer to maneuvering a car in reverse. Back up, you're standing too close to me! If you back up a little, then your car will be completely in that parking space.
2. verb To save copies of computer files in another place, in case the original files become inaccessible. If you didn't back up your files before the computer crashed, they may be lost forever.
3. verb To become clogged and impassable. I'm calling the plumber right now because the toilet is backed up again. Traffic is totally backed up, due to all that construction.
4. verb To return to an item previously mentioned. Whoa, back up—Janet and Jim are getting married?
5. verb To support or assist someone. A person's name or a pronoun is used between "back" and "up" in this usage. You didn't see that meeting on the calendar, either? OK, please back me up on this, so the boss doesn't think I'm an idiot.
6. noun An alternate to be used if it becomes necessary for some reason, typically the failure, ineffectiveness, or the absence of the original. The phrase is typically written as one word. I brought an extra pen as a backup, in case this one runs out of ink during the exam. I hope Tony asks me to the prom, but, if not, I have my best friend Bill as a backup.
7. adjective Available for use as an alternate if it becomes necessary for some reason, typically the failure, ineffectiveness, or the absence of the original. The phrase is typically written as one word. I brought three backup pens, in case this one runs out of ink during the exam. I'm the backup quarterback, but I still have to know all the plays in case I get in the game. I hope Tony asks me to the prom, but, if not, I have my best friend Bill as a backup date.
8. adjective Appearing in the background in support of a main act or performer. The phrase is typically written as one word. She's auditioning backup dancers for her world tour today.
See also: back, up

back and fill

Fig. to act indecisively; to change one's direction repeatedly; to reverse one's course. (Originally nautical, referring to trimming the sails so as to alternately fill them with wind and release the wind, in order to maneuver in a narrow space.) The president spent most of his speech backing and filling on the question of taxation. The other candidate was backing and filling on every issue, depending on whom she was addressing.
See also: and, back, fill

back away

 (from someone or something) and back off (from someone or something)
1. Lit. to move backwards from a person or thing; to withdraw physically from someone or something. You should back away from the fire. Please back off from the man who is threatening you.
2. Fig. to begin to appear uninterested in someone or something; to withdraw one's interest from someone or something. The board of directors began to back away from the idea of taking over the rival company. Tom backed off from the whole idea of investing in stocks.
See also: away, back

back down

(from someone or something) to yield to a person or a thing; to fail to carry through on a threat. Jane backed down from her position on the budget. It's probably better to back down from this situation; looks like you are at a disadvantage.
See also: back, down

back down

(on something) to lessen or drop an earlier rigid position on something; to yield something in an argument. She backed down on her demands. In the end, she backed down.
See also: back, down

back down (something)

to go down something backwards, such as a ladder or inclined driveway. Harry backed down the ladder safely. Looking behind him, he backed down slowly.
See also: back, down

back off

(from someone or something) Go to back away (from someone or something).
See also: back, off

back someone or something off (from something)

to guide or move someone or something a short distance from something. I backed the car off from the curb a tiny bit. Using signals, I backed the car off from the crushed bicycle.
See also: back, off

back someone up

to provide someone with help in reserve; to support someone. Don't worry. I will back you up when you need me. Will you please back up Nancy over the weekend?
See also: back, up

back something up

 
1. Lit. to drive a car backwards. Will you back your car up a little? I will back up the car.
2. Lit. to cause objects to obstruct a pathway or channel and cause a slowdown in the flow. The wreck backed the cars up for a long way. Some dead branches and leaves backed the sewer up.
3. Fig. to give additional support or evidence about something. (To support or strengthen the facts.) My story of the crime will back your story up. That backs up my story, all right.
See also: back, up

back the wrong horse

Fig. to support someone or something that cannot win or succeed. I don't want to back the wrong horse, but it seems to me that Jed is the better candidate. Fred backed the wrong horse in the budget hearings.
See also: back, horse, wrong

back up

 
1. Lit. [for objects] to obstruct and accumulate in a pathway or channel. Something clogged the sewer and it backed up.
2. Fig. to refuse to go through with something; to back out (of something). Fred backed up at the last minute, leaving me to do the job alone.
See also: back, up

back up (to something)

to go back to something said in a conversation. Wait—back up a little. What did you say that phone number was? Let's back up to what you just said and go over that point again.
See also: back, up

back up (to something)

to go back to something said in a conversation. Wait—back up a little. What did you say that phone number was? Let's back up to what you just said and go over that point again.
See also: back, up

back away (from something)

to stop supporting something Congress backed away from the plan to cut taxes.
See also: away, back

back down

to decide not to do something because others say you should not do it Most of the speakers opposed the budget cuts, but the mayor said she would not back down. We demanded an end to the weapons tests, and we thought they had agreed to back down.
See also: back, down

back off

to not do something you intended to do They had been unwise when they backed off from making changes to the law. Another boss might have told the editor to back off and not pursue the story.
Etymology: based on the literal meaning of back off (to move away)
See also: back, off

back up somebody

also back somebody up
to support someone The special operations forces would be backed up by infantry and air power. I keep telling her it's true, but she doesn't believe me - will you back me up here?
See also: back, up

back up (something)

also back (something) up
1. to state the truth of something The last speaker backed up what most of the other people said.
2. to make an electronic copy of information in a computer so that it can be stored separately We back up our files on a disk every day.
See also: back, up

back somebody into a corner

to force someone into a bad situation The company backed its workers into a corner by hiring replacements during the strike.
Usage notes: sometimes used in the form get backed into a corner: When that team gets backed into a corner, they aren't afraid to fight their way out.
See also: back, corner

back the wrong horse

to support a person or thing that fails It was only after we'd invested all the money that we discovered we'd been backing the wrong horse.
See also: back, horse, wrong

backing and filling

  (American)
continuously changing or delaying a decision After much backing and filling she finally agreed to hand over the company's books.
See also: and, backing, filling

back and fill

Vacillate, be undecided, as in This measure will never be passed if the town meeting continues to back and fill. This term comes from sailing ships, where it signifies alternately backing and filling the sails, a method used when the wind is running against a ship in a narrow channel. The sail is hauled back against the wind and braced so that the tide or current carries the ship forward against the wind. Then the sail must be swung around and filled, to keep the ship on course. The term's figurative use for indecisiveness dates from the mid-1800s.
See also: and, back, fill

back away

1. Walk backward, as in He cautiously backed away from the fire.
2. Gradually retreat, withdraw, as in Since he couldn't convince his colleagues, he's backing away from his original idea. Both usages employ the verb back in the sense of "retreat," dating from the late 1400s. Also see back down; back out.
See also: away, back

back down

1. Reverse one's upward course, descend. For example, When she saw the wasps' nest on the roof, she hastily backed down the ladder. This literal usage usually refers to something one has climbed, such as a ladder or mountain. [Mid-1800s]
2. Also, back off. Retreat or yield. For example, As the watchdog began to snarl the letter carrier backed off, or You have a good point; now don't back down when you present it to the board. [First half of 1900s] Also see back away, def. 2.
See also: back, down

back off

1. See back down, def. 2.
2. Relent, abandon one's stand. For example, The chairman wanted to sell one division but later backed off. [Mid-1900s]
See also: back, off

back the wrong horse

Also, bet on the wrong horse. Guess wrongly or misjudge a future outcome, as in Jones garnered only a few hundred votes; we obviously backed the wrong horse, or Counting on the price of IBM to rise sharply was betting on the wrong horse. Transferred from wagering money on a horse that fails to win the race, a usage dating from the late 1600s, this term is widely applied to elections and other situations of uncertain outcome.
See also: back, horse, wrong

back up

1. Move or drive a vehicle backward, as in He told her to back up into the garage. [First half of 1800s]
2. Bring or come to a standstill, as in The water had backed up in the drains, or The accident had backed up traffic for miles. [First half of 1800s]
3. Support or strengthen, as in The photos were backed up with heavy cardboard so they couldn't be bent, or I'll back up that statement of yours. [Second half of 1700s]
4. Duplicate a file or program so that the original is not lost. For example, Every computer manual warns you to back up your work frequently in case of a power outage or computer failure . [Second half of 1900s]
See also: back, up

back away

v.
1. To move backward away from something or someone; retreat: The dog backed away from the hissing cat. I told the kids to keep their distance from the burning fire, but they wouldn't back away.
2. To move something backward away from something or someone; retreat: I backed the car away from the oncoming traffic.
3. To withdraw one's interest or support from something or someone: The candidate backed away from his previous controversial views.
See also: away, back

back down

v.
1. To move backward through some region, especially in a vehicle: We backed down the driveway.
2. To cause something, especially a vehicle, to move backward through some region or space: I slowly backed the truck down the hill.
3. To withdraw from a position or confrontation, especially due to intimidation: The smaller bear kept growling so loudly that the larger bear backed down and walked away. Even though they appeared to have a very strong argument against me, I wouldn't back down, and I eventually showed them their conclusions were wrong.
See also: back, down

back off

v.
1. To move backward so that one is farther away from someone or something: Back off the car ahead of you: you're driving too close to it. The dog growled at me when I approached, so I backed off.
2. To move something backward beyond the edge of something: He accidentally backed the truck off the ledge and broke an axle.
3. To decrease the intensity or amount of something: I think I should back off the desserts for a little while so I can lose some weight.
4. To decide not to continue doing something or supporting an idea: You've made up your mind, so don't back off your idea now! Just before they were about to sign the papers to buy the new house, they got nervous and backed off.
5. To stop intimidating, threatening, or pressuring someone: Even as I left the store, the salesman wouldn't back off me. Whenever anyone bothers me, I just tell them to back off.
6. To cause someone or something to stop intimidating, threatening or pressuring: The angry dogs were barking at the poor kid, so I waved a stick and backed them off.
See also: back, off

back up

v.
1. To move backward: We passed the house we were looking for, so we had to back up a little bit.
2. To move something or someone backward: I backed the car up against the garage wall. Let's back up the car to the curb.
3. To prove something to be true: There was not enough evidence to back up the theory. What I told you is true, and now I have even more evidence to back it up.
4. To support someone by confirming that they are telling the truth: We told our version of the events, certain that the witnesses would back us up. They won't back up anyone who is known for lying.
5. To provide help or support for someone or something: If I decide to take on the job, can I count on you to back me up? The political party backs up any candidate who follows its basic principles.
6. To cause to accumulate, especially due to an obstruction: The accident backed the traffic up for blocks. Something got stuck in the drain, and now the kitchen sink is backed up.
7. To make a copy of a computer program or file for use if the original is lost or damaged: I backed up the disk so that I wouldn't lose any data. Be sure to back your files up before you turn off the computer.
See also: back, up

back up

in. to refuse to go through with something; to back out (of something). Fred backed up at the last minute, leaving me with twenty pounds of hot dogs.
See also: back, up

back and fill

1. Nautical To maneuver a vessel in a narrow channel by adjusting the sails so as to let the wind in and out of them in alteration.
2. To vacillate in one's actions or decisions.
See also: and, back, fill