What figure of speech is the following statement?

"If you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours"

A friend said that to me today.

  • 3
    I'd say it's just a metaphor - a figure of speech containing an implied comparison, in which a word or phrase ordinarily and primarily used of one thing is applied to another. But note that although the underlying reference is to apes/chimps/etc. engaging in "mutual grooming" to the benefit of each, the metaphor only really invokes that (socially) beneficial activity, not the simian nature of the normal literal participants. Jun 20, 2017 at 13:05
  • 1
    You understand that if you help me in my area of need, then I will repay you in your need, which may be a different area? Jun 20, 2017 at 13:15
  • What do you mean by "what"? That is, what are you asking about - the type of figure (see FF's comment), the meaning of the idiom (see YB's comment), or something else?
    – Lawrence
    Jun 20, 2017 at 13:40

1 Answer 1


Looking around: Wiktionary calls it a "proverb," which isn't much help.

I view this as an idiom, and a published book agrees with me. Quote:

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