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My daughter's reading the story Dan the Dunce and there are the following paragraphs:

Onec upon a time there was a Princess. She was bored. So she decided to get married. "But my husband must be clever and amusing," she said. "I'll test each suitor as he comes." So the news was given out by he Herald to the whole country.

Far out in the country there lived an old Count. He had two sons who were the cleverest men for miles around. [...]

The two clever sons decided to become suitors for the Princess, and began to prepare for the test. The first clever son read a lot of books in Latin, and learned them backwards too. He also read all the local newspapers for the past three years.

Does "learned them backwards" mean that he could recite the books word by word in the reverse order?

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    It's a saying. It means he knows the books very well. – doodlebob Jul 16 '19 at 14:39
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Backward and forward, or sometimes forward and backward, is an expression meaning thoroughly:

Idioms

10 backward and forward, thoroughly:

He knew his lesson backward and forward.

: Also backwards and forwards.

In this case, the author has only alluded to the expression rather than using it in its entirety. It is equivalent to:

The first clever son read a lot of books in Latin, and learned them backward and forward.

The first clever son read a lot of books in Latin, and learned them thoroughly.

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I would need more context to be exact, but usually when an English speaker says they learned something forwards and backwards, it is an exaggeration. What it really means is that the person learned the topic really well.

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  • Just added more context. Please help confirm. – pynexj Jul 16 '19 at 14:57

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