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If my boss asks me if I can help him to do something, I reply: I'll bend over backwards to do it.

Does this reply literally have a meaning of flattery?

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It's difficult to do (try it!); that you're willing to do it just to get the job done shows dedication. –  user730 Dec 19 '10 at 12:10
    
There can be a negative connotation to "bend over" but "bend over backwards" simply means go to extreme lengths to do something. –  Robusto Dec 19 '10 at 15:50
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5 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

In my mind, it's a very extreme form of commitment reserved for out of the ordinary scenarios. Not something I would recommend telling a boss on a regular basis, as it robs the term of its degree of commitment.

You might bend over backwards to win a key client from a competitor, but you wouldn't bend over backwards to get the weekly report in on time.

Even then, to use the phrase is indicative that you really need something to happen and that the consequences for your job/reputation/well being might be extreme if you couldn't. One typically bends over backwards not just for someone in a higher position than oneself, but also when the person you're doing it for shows little regard for you, because they know they're in control due to their station.

People who bend over backwards often assume a submissive role, which is not to be mistaken with there mere seniority that a boss would have over you at work.

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Great explanation. –  Mudassir Jan 17 '11 at 12:35
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The reason the phrase is bend over backwards is because bending over forwards for your boss would be implying something else. –  tchrist Jul 30 '12 at 22:14
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I think it sounds a little weird to tell your boss you will bend over backwards. I think it sounds better when your boss uses it to explain your work.

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I'm not sure I agree with some of the current answers implying some negative overtones. The thing is, in most circumstances, one would use this term about someone else, not oneself. And in that case, it would more likely somewhere between compliment and outright admiration.

"The plane was delayed by 3 hours, but the crew bent over backwards to make it as painless as possible"

Another roughly-equivalent expression would be "going beyond the call of duty".

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It doesn't have any negative connotation, it just means something along the lines of "I'll do everything I can."

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From what I gather "bend over backwards" is slightly derogatory in that it implies you are so spineless you will do literally anything you have to in order to please a specific person.

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That's a great point. It can suggest a certain amorale tendency. –  Joost Schuur Dec 21 '10 at 2:10
    
I think only a specific context gives it a negative connotation. The whole point is that it is extremely difficult to bend over backwards, not that a spineless person would find it easier. –  Wayne May 24 '11 at 18:17
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protected by RegDwigнt Jul 30 '12 at 21:13

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