A pat on the back

A pat on the back is an idiom that has been in use for several hundred years. An idiom is a commonly used word, group of words, or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery or metaphors, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech like an often-used metaphor have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom, which may use slang words or other parts of speech common in American slang or British slang, is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions and idiomatic language such as hit the sack, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, back to the drawing board, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, hit the nail on the head, face the music, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, because they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. English phrases that are idioms should not be taken literally. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker; it is helpful to maintain a list of phrases, common expressions, colloquial terms, and popular expressions to memorize that are used figuratively or idiomatically. We will examine the meaning of the common idiom a pat on the back, where it came from, and some examples of its idiomatic usage in sentences.

A pat on the back is a noun phrase that means praise or recognition for a job well done. A pat on the back may be verbal praise, a formal recognition like an award, a monetary reward, or other token of one’s esteem. The expression a pat on the back first came into use in the 1800s and stems from the fact that a common gesture in the Western world is to literally pat someone on the back while praising him.


She deserved a pat on the back for her faithful church attendance, but I would have to encourage her to get out of the house a little more. (Bedford Gazette)

If your guess was they are going against each other, give yourself a pat on the back, you deserve it. (Times Argus)

I have no choice but to give the county a pat on the back for its efforts on homelessness. (Santa Maria Sun)

Leave a Comment