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According to LDOCE5, "back to front" in British English means

a) in an incorrect position so that what should be at the back is at the front:

Example: You’ve got your sweater on back to front.

b) doing something the wrong way round and starting with the part that should be at the end:

Example: He got the commands back to front and the program didn’t work.

I am wondering if "back to front" is also used in American English? If not, then what is its equivalent form in AE?

  • Hello, Opt. The term also appears in at least one American-corpus based dictionary, M-W. You could also check in a Google Ngram filtered for 'AmE', though this seems to turn up mainly 'BrE' examples available for the American market. Perhaps a Google search for "baseball cap on back to front" might be rewarding. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 28 '17 at 10:51
  • Thanks Edwin. Usually LDOCE mentions if the expression is AE or BE. In this case, it does not mention that "back to front" is AE. So I thought maybe it is not common in US. I just realized that somewhere else in the same dictionary it mentions "backwards" is an AE equivalent. – Opt Oct 28 '17 at 11:04
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    Yep, "backwards" would the US equivalent. – Hot Licks Oct 28 '17 at 11:31
  • Along the lines of the constructions of "inside out" and "upside down," I've heard "backside front[ward/s]" and "front side back[ward/s]" here in my part of Virginia. Then there's "Ass backward/s" and the perhaps more polite "Bass ackward/s." For a general way to cover any offending inversion (as I use/see it), there's "{be/on} the wrong way round/around", but please note that the LDOCE link actually seems to specify (or at least uses the example of) having "the back is where the front should be." – Papa Poule Oct 28 '17 at 23:20
  • @Edwin and Opt, I don't know why MW has an entry for back-to-front, unless it's providing eclectic English. The term is not used in American English except by the rare American who has adopted a British English term. And so far I can't find a legitimate American usage of the term used with 'baseball cap'. I've found some BrE uses. – green_ideas Oct 28 '17 at 23:28
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MacMillan dictionary calls 'back to front' a British adverb.

Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English calls the term British English.

This accords with my experience that the phrase back-to-front, referring to wearing something backwards, is not general colloquial American usage. We do use back to front as in they seat the airplane from back to front, but that's not the same as 'backwards', which is the American English terminology. Also there may be some medical or specialty vocabulary that use the phrase back-to-front.

Check out this Word Reference thread called "How do you wear a baseball cap?" The opening post is by Wishfull, apparently a native Japanese speaker, who asks

How do natives express wearing a baseball cap forward or backward?

(There's also some verbiage about wearing a cap backwards as being bad manners, which doesn't concern us.)

Thomas Tompion, whose profile states his native language is English - England proffers

back-to-front

Uncle Bob (British-English)

That's right.

and offers also 'the right/wrong way round'.

cuchuflete (American English), about wearing it the wrong way says

She's wearing a baseball hat with the visor facing backwards.

Then Thomas Tompion (UK) reveals that his knowledge of the game of baseball is limited as he asks

Is it only the pitcher who wears the hat back-to-front in professional matches, Cuchu?"

panjandrum (English-Ireland) in the meantime comments:

He's wearing his baseball cap back to front.
He's wearing his baseball cap the wrong way round.

Cuchuflete (who is from Maine, USA) answers Thomas Tompion with

I confess that I have no idea what you mean by back-to-front.

Myridon, from Texas, USA says:

The catcher wears his baseball cap backwards.

and uses backwards two other times.

Packard (English-USA), talking about a guy who wears his cap "with the brim to the rear," comments

Each morning I greet him the same way,"Still got your hat on backwards, eh?"

Jill-Eliza, from Portland, Oregon, USA says

In America, we don't say "the right/wrong way round." That sound British. We might say, "The right/wrong way around." ...

We don't say "back-to-front" where I am from either.

"She wears her baseball cap backwards." Is how I would describe the visor being in the back of her head.

In summary, each UK person in the conversation uses back-to-front. But we have an American from Maine (east coast) and an American from Oregon (west coast), on a forum discussing language usage, one who doesn't know what back-to-front means and one who states Americans don't use the phrase. Every American response contains backwards.

As an American who's lived in several parts of the country, I concur with the Oregonian: we don't use back-to-front.

As Edwin has pointed out, Merriam-Webster has an entry for back-to-front:

of a piece of clothing
:with the back where the front should be He accidentally put the sweater on back to front.

It also marks the expression's 'popularity' as 'Bottom 10% of words'.

Regarding general American English usage, I would say 1%.

Collins dictionary says "mainly British" and "in AM usually backward".

When I search Google books for "baseball cap back-to-front" I do find some literary or prose uses. M-W might be reflecting that. Doing a general Google search returns no genuine American usage on the first two or three pages: all are from the UK or are false returns.

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    I'm more convinced now that this is a case where 'dictionaries ain't perfect' needs to be stated. – Edwin Ashworth Oct 29 '17 at 16:45

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