Some may have heard (or read) of the alternative title of The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, which is There And Back Again. I figured it might literally mean something like I went there and came back here again, and figuratively referring to some trip that is significant in some way, where I refers to the protagonist of the story.

I am not too sure if my interpretation is correct, so I hope I can get some confirmation here.

Also, I have one side question: I know it's probably not an idiom, but is it alright to use it as if it were an idiom? I think its meaning is pretty apparent, and it's probably just my lack of confidence that's making me ask this question. For example, if I went to stay in Australia for at least a few years, but then circumstances forced me to go back to my country after a month, so the time I spent there felt almost like an adventure, can I say there and back again? Note that I am trying to emphasize the "adventure" part of the round-trip.

  • It means essentially what you say, only the expression is used in a variety of figurative senses.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 12, 2016 at 12:43
  • @HotLicks figurative as in going there = adventuring?
    – busukxuan
    Jul 12, 2016 at 12:45
  • When you say "is it alright to use it as if it were an idiom?" can you give a sample usage? It might be that you're just using it as a figure of speech or actually just a literal description rather than as an idiom. Jul 12, 2016 at 12:48
  • 1
    It can mean believing in the validity an argument then realizing it's bogus, going on an emotional "journey", and several other things.
    – Hot Licks
    Jul 12, 2016 at 12:48
  • 1
    yes, of course you could use it on it's own. Whether "the devil is in the details" is an idiom has nothing to do with whether it's used as part of a larger sentence. Let's just simplify things here and say that "There and back again" is not an idiom. End of story. Jul 12, 2016 at 13:18

3 Answers 3


It's referring to the path of a journey, eg

"So, where did your adventure take you Bilbo?"
"There and back again"

I wouldn't say that it's an idiom, although it depends on what you use it for I suppose. An idiom's meaning isn't obvious, so if you used to to refer to something that only you understood the meaning of then you would be using it as a sort of idiom. It's not, as far as I know, a commonly used idiom, by which I mean that if people say it then they mean what it seems like it would mean.

EDIT: to expand on the whole idiom thing. Here's a little flowchart, asking about any phrase.

  • is it literally true?
    • YES: it's simply a description.
  • NO: is it obvious what it means, without prior exposure to the phrase?
    • YES: it's a figure of speech
    • NO: it's an idiom.

Bearing that in mind, if, for example, you wrote a blog post about your year in Australia, and called it "There and back again" then we can apply the above test. It's going to answer "YES" to the first question, since you have been literally been there (somewhere) and back again.

So, it's just a description, albeit one that is a bit vague. It also contains a reference to The Hobbit. People who get the reference might think that it was an adventure, possibly with some difficulties. Containing a reference to something doesn't make it an idiom, it's just a sort of bonus feature.


I read your question carefully Busukxuan an then I read the responses an besides Max Williams an you pointing out The Hobbit reference, I was really surprised that no one mentioned the book.

Like I said before Busukxuan, I read your question very carefully an I understand that your looking for a literature meaning to the phrase. Before I continue my opinion, let's first make this clear.....yes the meaning to the this phase is based in the environment of adventure or misadventure or both but travel does play a big role in the meaning (I'm not really sure about using it in idioms but then again I been slacking on my literature so I wouldn't know at the moment).

Now, with that being said; no one mentioned the book. If one was familiar with The Hobbit an The Lord Of The Rings, they would know that the main protagonists Bilbo Baggins, Froto Baggins an lastly Samwise Gamgee are the authors to a major story saga that they experienced first-hand which would later be titled...you guessed it...There And Back Again: A Hobbits Tale/Holiday.

However, Bilbo Baggins is the main author of this extremely enormous book due to the fact that he began creating the book in his perspective. Then from there, the rest is history. Though what the title meant to him is pretty much what everyone has been saying. The sense of adventuring. Busukxuan, your ideal of the meaning towards the phase is correct but like I said though im not sure if the phrase can be used as an idiom.

If I remember correctly...the definition of Idiom is a group of words/expression or phrase whose meaning is not exactly accurate or predictable to the words/expression or phrase given.

While the phrase "There and back again" is pretty straight forward an does not have another subliminal meaning [at least not to the person (hobbit) who created the phrase]. Bilbo Baggins decided to go on many peril adventures (THERE) an when those adventures reached their conclusions he would go back home to The Shire (AND BACK AGAIN) and document his knowledge that he learned so that he can share his knowledge to his fellow hobbit friends an family.

This is the true meaning to the phrase "There and back again", one who went on an adventure from home only to return home to speak and share their learned wisdom an give birth to knowledge (storytelling). I know this wasn't the answer you were most likely hoping for.

It wasn't an idiom-related answer but you did ask for the meaning. There was aloooot more things I could've added but I think this waaaay more than enough. I hope this was helpful.

  • 2
    This is unreadable. PLEASE add blank lines.
    – tchrist
    Mar 23, 2017 at 3:02
  • @tchrist Im afraid I don't understand. What do u mean by "add blank lines" ¿?
    – user226587
    Mar 24, 2017 at 0:45
  • 1
    You have posted a wall of text. Nobody can read that. Add blank lines between paragraphs.
    – tchrist
    Mar 24, 2017 at 2:15
  • 1
    He means paragraph breaks. Paragraph breaks are empty lines between paragraphs. Adding these blank lines [as I have done for you, this time] upgrades your post from illegible to legible and godawful. Now that we've got some structure to your post here, can you distill it down to the fundamental answer you want to convey? And, by the way, the other answer, the upvoted and accepted one does, in fact, point out this is a reference to The Hobbit. In big bold letters.
    – Dan Bron
    Mar 25, 2017 at 21:06

From a nursery rhyme (How many miles to Babylon):

“. . . three score and ten. Can I get there by candlelight? Yes and back again.”

Your Answer

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

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