Where does the phrase “to back water” come from and What does back water mean?

Literally, the phrase “to back water” was said of a ship, boat, canoe, or the like, to which the paddle wheel was reversed, or the oars or paddles were moved backward.

Hence, figuratively, one is said to back water when obliged to retract a statement or reverse a position or withdraw from a situation.

The expression dates from the early days of the steamboat, the early nineteenth century.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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