I found the phrase backing forward or backing back in Secretary State Hillary Clinton’s remark on the Sunday Show, which was quoted in today’s Washington Post as follows.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton continued making the rounds on the Sunday shows to discuss the fast-evolving situation in Egypt. "This is a complex, very difficult situation," said Clinton, "We do not want to send any message about backing forward or backing back."

What does backing forward or backing back mean? Does it mean keep positive support to Mubarak regime or Withdraw support to Mubarak regime, or simply mean move back and fro, or move back further on U.S. policy toward Egypt?

  • That's a damn good question.
    – Robusto
    Jan 31, 2011 at 2:46
  • Robusto. Thank you. It's first time my question was commented a good question by English pundits since I started to post questions from last year-end. Jan 31, 2011 at 4:11
  • 2
    … And always twirling, twirling toward freedom! Jan 31, 2011 at 11:41

3 Answers 3


I think you are right; it refers to American support either for Mubarak or his opposition. Her phrasing is a bit odd, but I'd interpret it like this:

  • backing = supporting
  • back = those who want to go back to the old situation, Mubarak in power
  • forward = those who want to go forward to a new government

"We do not want to send any message [to either party] about [our] supporting those who want change or those who want to go back to the way things were."

  • Cerberus. Your gloss (backing, back, forword) is easily understandable and helpful. Then, it grammatically make sense, because I felt uneasy with the expression of ‘backing back or backing forward’ as I took ‘back’ and ‘forward’ for an adverb. Jan 31, 2011 at 4:52
  • @Yoichi Oishi: That is understandable. I must say that I found this way of saying it a bit unusual; but it is the only interpretation I could think of, and it must obviously mean something like for or against Mubarak. Jan 31, 2011 at 4:56

This is what happens when a politician can't think of anything truly useful to say but has to say something anyway. What Mrs. Clinton really means is something like

I need to appear on press shows to talk about the situation, and I need to be seen to be out in front of this very dangerous predicament, but — wow, I sure wish I could talk about something else because the one thing I can't do is appear to be coming down on one side or the other because whichever side ultimately comes out on top will remember if I said something in support of the loser and then we will be the losers: we'll lose a very important ally in the Middle East ... which may be going to happen anyway because, well, not supporting the winning side can sometimes be as bad as supporting the losing side.

So, given all of the above, I'm going to try to split hairs as finely as they have ever been split, and I give you now a new level of nonsense-speak which will undoubtedly be lampooned on Fox News and The Daily Show alike, but what the hell can I do about it? 'Backing-forward' and 'backing-back' are the best I could come up with. You think you could do better?

I sympathize, Mrs. Clinton, I really do. But nonsense is nonsense.

  • 2
    +1. Robusto for Secretary of State! At least when he has to say gobbledygook, you'll know what he means.
    – Alex
    Jan 31, 2011 at 2:42
  • Alex. I learnt a new word, 'gobbledygook' by placing this question. Is it gobbledy + Jan 31, 2011 at 4:22
  • Alex. I learnt a new word, 'gobbledygook' by placing this question, which I find a great benefit of this forum. It seems to me to mean nonsense. Is it a compound of 'gobbledy +gook'? How frequently being used? Jan 31, 2011 at 4:29
  • Very nice. In her situation I'd say something like "Egypt is a sovereign country, and it is not our place to pick sides in a foreign political conflict or a civil war". It wouldn't be true, of course, since countries pick sides all the time; but it might sound convincing to more than 0 people. // So do you really think she meant "backing" as a movement, and "back" and "forward" as the directions of that movement? Then her expression is even uglier than I imagined it in my interpretation. Jan 31, 2011 at 5:04
  • @YoichiOishi: 'Gobbledygook' is a word of American origin. It is meant to represent the 'gobble' sound a turkey makes.
    – user3444
    Jan 31, 2011 at 10:03

Though not a native speaker of the English language, I do hope Secretary Clinton's use of the word 'backing' could also help clarify the difference, if any, between the common US usage of the word 'back' – such as 'I've got your back' (essentially meaning 'I support you') and the UK usage of the word 'backing '– 'you have my backing' (also meaning 'you have my support'?). This is just an aside from what the secretary of state said in the quoted statement.

  • Possibly, a comment, not an answer?
    – theUg
    Jan 29, 2013 at 4:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.