I have to ask that what will be the idiom of attacking behind the back?

  • 6
    I suggest you ask this question on English Language Learners. But please Do not als the question on both sites at the same time: if you choose to ask it there, please delete this question.
    – TrevorD
    Aug 31 '13 at 12:52
  • Back-stabbing (verb) or back-stab (noun). An ambush is something different (though related) because it lacks the element of performing the attack while the target is oblivious, though retaining the element of planning the attack while the target is oblivious. Aug 31 '13 at 12:59

stab in the back

play judas

sell down the river

lay an ambush can be used both literally and figuratively

  • 3
    And the associated backstabbing
    – bib
    Aug 31 '13 at 15:56

To backbite also is relevant; its senses include “(informal) To attack from behind or when out of earshot with spiteful or defamatory remarks” and “To speak badly of an absent individual”. (It also has a sense that doesn't quite apply in the context of the question: “To make spiteful, slanderous, or defamatory statements about someone”.)


Pull the rug from under somebody/something: to suddenly stop helping or support from someone and harm them.


The most common word (that I can think of, at least) is ambushing, for example:

We were ambushed by a guerrilla faction while crossing the mountain pass.


I must have read over the question too quickly—I didn’t see that it said “behind the back”, I somehow just read it as “attacking from behind”. Ambushing someone just means to attack them from behind.

‘Behind [someone’s] back’ means ‘done in a secretive, furtive manner’, and therefore “attacking behind someone’s back” has a slightly different meaning: it implies that you are being indirectly attacked by someone in a non-literal sense, and it is being done without you knowing it. If someone bad-mouths you to all your friends, making them think that you did something bad (when in reality you hadn’t), they would be attacking you behind your back.

This situation can, as user49727 mentioned, be described as stabbing someone in the back. This implies that someone whom you previously trusted betrays you in the back—in order for someone to stab you in the back (which is a cowardly thing to do), you have to first allow them to get very close to you (trust) and then turn your back to them (letting down your defences—more trust).

As it happens, all the expressions I can think of that deal with attacking someone without letting them know about it assume that the attacker is already in a position of trust with the victim. I cannot think of an expression that neutrally describes furtively attacking an oblivious victim at all—possibly there isn’t one. You can say that someone is scheming/plotting against someone else, but that deals only with the planning stages of the attack. If the actual attack itself is also secretive, that is a different matter.

  • Ambush does not imply direction, although it is probably most frequently done from the sides as that is easiest to arrange.
    – jmoreno
    Aug 31 '13 at 18:51
  • True. I guess I just intuitively understood ‘attack from behind’ as meaning ‘attack from an unseen location’. Aug 31 '13 at 19:39

Also consider sneak attack which is equated to ambush cited above.

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