Stab in the back

Stab in the back is an idiom that came into use around the turn of the twentieth century. 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, 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 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 beat around the bush, ballpark figure, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, close but no cigar, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, a dime a dozen, 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. 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 expression stab in the back, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

A stab in the back is a betrayal, an act of treachery, a demonstration of deceit in the face of trust, disloyalty. A stab in the back is a noun, but there are many other forms for this idiom. Back-stabbing is a noun that means the process of performing treachery or betrayal. The verb phrase stab someone in the back means to betray someone or to be disloyal. Related phrases are stabs someone in the back, stabbed someone in the back, stabbing someone in the back. The idea behind the idiom a stab in the back is that the perpetrator is too much of a coward or too weak to confront his victim, and instead waits until his victim’s back is turned to injure him. The first use of the phrase stab in the back is sometimes attributed to George Bernard Shaw, in an article published in 1916. However, others cite examples of this phrase going back to the 1880s.


I would be upset if he stabbed me in the back, just based on first impressions. (The Hollywood Reporter)

U.S. Navy Master-at-Arms Matthew McCarty, based at a Naval station in South Carolina and in the service since 2013, said Trump’s ban came as a stab in the back. (Reuters)

The classic hard-right trope is the “stab in the back” myth, of a great national project – normally going to war – betrayed by internal subversion and a lack of fight. (The Guardian)

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