On the back burner

On the back burner is a fairly modern idiom. An idiom is a 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 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 is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as in a blue moon, spill the beans, let the cat out of the bag, silver lining, chin up, 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, as 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. We will examine the meaning of the idiom on the back burner, where it came from, and some examples of its use in sentences.

On the back burner describes something that has a lower priority, something that is not of immediate concern, something that can be dealt with later. Something that has been put on the back burner is not forgotten, it is simply postponed. The idiom on the back burner evokes the image of a modern gas or electric stove top. Many gas and electric stove tops have four burners, with a back burner that is smaller and meant to keep food warm, not to cook it at a high heat. The expression on the back burner came into use in the mid-twentieth century; it may have originated as advertising jargon.


Re-prioritize projects and deadlines — identify what can be put on the back burner (or even cancelled altogether) and what deadlines can be extended. (The Harvard Business Review)

Recognizing this, council members have decided to put replacing the borough hall roof on the back burner. (The Wyoming County Examiner)

A spokesman for XR Furness said: “Apparently the climate emergency has been put on the back burner till the autumn budget because of what is seen as the more pressing need to act on the coronavirus crisis.” (The Daily Mail)

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