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"When President Christie is in the Oval Office, I'll have your back," he said.

What does "have your back" mean in this sentence? It seems to be of the same meaning as "support", but I can't find a matching noun meaning in Oxford and Longman Dictionary.

Can "back" be used as a noun meaning "support" in standard English?

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    There is the noun "backing" which derives from "back" and can mean "support". Nov 11, 2015 at 2:41

4 Answers 4

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'I'll have your back' is an idiom meaning 'I will support you' - 'back' on its own can be used as a verb meaning 'support', but would not be used as a noun that way outside this phrase (or one very similar).

An equivalent (and easier to understand) phrase is 'I'll watch your back' or 'I'll guard your back'; all three refer to protecting someone against an unseen attack from behind.

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    I'm not familiar with I'll have your back being used to mean I'll support you, generally. To me, the meaning is I'll protect you from unseen threats, whether literally or figuratively
    – user20792
    Nov 11, 2015 at 16:41
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    @User1 I think as it's used more and more, it has transitioned from the specific "unseen threats" to a more general support.
    – JPhi1618
    Nov 11, 2015 at 17:30
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    In my experience, I'll have your back (or more commonly, I've got your back) can simply mean "I support you". For example, I don't think Reba McEntire was telling the LGBT community "I will protect you from unseen threats."
    – stangdon
    Nov 11, 2015 at 17:35
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    The noun "Back" here literally means your backside, the side that you cannot see for yourself and "having your back" means protecting that side from threats. So the noun "back" doesn't mean "support", but the expression "I'll have your back" means "I will support you". Nov 12, 2015 at 7:34
  • While I understand your literal interpretation of where the phrase originally came from, it is very often used interchangeably with support.
    – QMord
    Nov 17, 2015 at 3:02
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Can "back" be used as a noun meaning "support" in standard English?

No, but it can be used as a verb to mean that.

However, this is not what happened in the phrase you quoted:

I'll have your back

This also means to support or defend. It's a metaphor from combat situations. In a fight you are particularly vulnerable to attack from the rear, as you may not see an attacker, and are not well placed to defend or counter-attack them. Someone "having your back" literally means that they are positioned so as to defend you from such attacks. Figuratively it means they'll defend and support you more generally.

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  • I'm not familiar with I'll have your back being used to mean I'll support you, generally. To me, the meaning is I'll protect you from unseen threats, whether literally or figuratively.
    – user20792
    Nov 11, 2015 at 16:40
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    @User1, I think the meaning of is that it also promises protection from seen, expected, or known threats that the promisee may not be able to guard against themselves. "I'll have your back" is a lesser promise than full and active support in pushing a cause forward, but it is a guarantee that you will help with a retreat or recovery if things go wrong. It would be an acceptable use to say "I'm sorry I can't invest in your new career, but I'll have your back with a job in my company any time you need."
    – Dave X
    Nov 11, 2015 at 17:42
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As a verb... i.e. I will back you, I am backing Bob, I backed Bush. "I have your back" means "I'm watching to see that no-one gets you" (presumably from behind, where you're most vulnerable)

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It is a noun as it is referring to the back of the human body as in "cover your back". It literally means he will hold or protect from behind. Non literally just he will give the needed support.

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