Oxford Dictionaries Online writes in their U.S. section that the phase cover one’s ass is an informal phrase meaning:

Foresee and avoid the possibility of attack or criticism.

  • ‘I like to cover my ass when I make big generalizations’

And if you search for that same phrase in their general dictionary covering World English, you’ll notice that they mention how cover one’s ass is specifically a North American expression.

The Wikipedia page for Cover your ass says:

The phrase cover your ass is generally viewed as a vulgar term, often replaced by the less-vulgar sounding initials CYA. Safire identified CYA as a synecdoche, in the same sense that the word “ass” had come to reference the whole person.

The entry for cover someone’s ass in Wiktionary states begins:

  1. (Canada, US, idiomatic) To make preparations or take precautions to ensure that a person is not blamed or punished for his or her conduct.

Collins English Dictionary says in its entry for the phrase that:

slang, mainly US and Canadian
to take such action as one considers necessary to avoid censure, ridicule, etc at a later time

While dictionary-dot-com’s page for cover one’s ass mentions (but only in their example citations, not their definition section): that some call it risk management

To provide or arrange for exculpation; devise excuses and alibis:

  • Some call it “risk management,” others “covering your ass.”
  • The FBI may have to let you be destroyed to cover its own ass.
  • CYA, you know, that old French expression that means making sure that when historians write about it all it won’t be seen as happening on your shift.

credited to The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D.; Copyright (C) 2007 by HarperCollins Publishers.

Risk management is a nice little phrase, but what other non-vulgar expressions are there that means the same thing as covering one’s ass means, but without being considered vulgar?

  • 4
    There are (at least) three different variations on the meaning of CYA. One is to meet the letter of the law, to avoid future legal problems. A second is to exhaustively cover all possibilities (eg, in a test or review). Or one might take preemptory steps (such as spin doctoring or creating a diversion) to divert attention. The "synonym" you choose is apt to be sensitive to what sense is being used.
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 5, 2017 at 13:11
  • 1
    You can just use make sure you’re covered
    – Jim
    Nov 5, 2017 at 16:06
  • Does "I've got your back" count?
    – ab123
    Nov 5, 2017 at 18:37

7 Answers 7


cover one's back
Foresee and avoid the possibility of attack or criticism.
‘never take chances, always cover your back’

Oxford Dictionaries

In legalese, the expression risk mitigation is heard

A systematic reduction in the extent of exposure to a risk and/or the likelihood of its occurrence. Also called risk reduction.
Business Dictionary

To bulletproof your contract aka a rock solid contract aka Terms and Conditions

Source: Bulletproof Terms for Every Contract

If you bulletproof something, you make it resistant to failure.
We have to bulletproof this program before we let the users at it; check every input, catch every possible flaw … it must not fail in use. Wiktionary

  • In Britain "cover your back" would be standard, whereas "cover your arse" would be unusual and appear vulgar. Therefore if Americans wish an alternative to "cover your ass" this suggestion would seem the nearest. In a figurative or antique sense, it is what is behind you (and you cannot see) that you need to beware of, not particularly your buttocks.
    – David
    Nov 5, 2017 at 18:41


(hedge, v., def 2)
limit or qualify something by conditions or exceptions. Experts usually hedge their predictions, just in case

Oxford American Dictionary


Covering your backside, rear or other synonym for ass is widely understood. Even just covering yourself is an option.

The basic phrase is rather mild really - only just vulgar but certainly informal. It's the informality that often means an alternative is needed. Again cover yourself (against...) is useful.


I think you could get quite creative with this one, depending how euphemistic you want to be:

Risk management is up the euphemistic end - others might be spin doctoring, PR (public relations), reputation management or protecting your assets.

Less euphemistic terms might be: dodging the rap, diverting blame, teflon coating, defensive strategising, acting the innocent, denying wrongdoing etc.


First, the phrase is a verb and object; "risk management" is not. Any replacement should be substitutable for "cover your ass".

"Minimize repercussions" fits the bill, but it would be closer to say, I think, "avoid repercussions". Or better: "protect yourself from possible repercussions".

CYA often has a connotation of excessive attention to avoiding repercussions. "Cover your tracks" might be a substitute if the goal is to hide something.

Example: - You payed cash instead of using a credit card for the hotel room with your lover to cover your ass - You payed cash [...] to cover your tracks.

A verbose substitute might be "take measures to avoid questions and to prepare to defend your motives or results if questioned".

I guess I like "protect yourself from possible repercussions" best.

  • Thanks for justly pointing out that "risk management" is not a suitable alternative because it's a noun not a verb. I also appreciate that you’ve written more than a from-the-hip one-liner which isn't just a bunch of dictionary copypasta with no reasoning of one’s own, the way SWRs so often draw. If you have a chance to tidy this up a bit, I believe that you’ve written payed for what in standard English is normally written paid in these situations. You may also wish to include asome citations and references illustrating and supporting your arguments.
    – tchrist
    Nov 5, 2017 at 15:19

In a situation of risk, where blame is very easily attributed, I find it best to foresee worst case scenarios and to 'minimise repercussions'.

Just for background, I have been in the Security business for just over twenty years and this aspect of my work - planning for the worst that can happen - is just about the most important, both for the safety of others and for my own.

That said, we are very vulnerable, blame lands first at our door if things go badly wrong, so in order to keep contracts and customers we constantly minimise future problems to absolute zero, if at all possible.

Wikipedia :

A worst-case scenario is a concept in risk management wherein the planner, in planning for potential disasters, considers the most severe possible outcome that can reasonably be projected to occur in a given situation, Conceiving of worst-case scenarios is a common form of strategic planning, specifically scenario planning, to prepare for and minimize contingencies that could result in accidents, quality problems, or other issues.


While CYA somehow has rather negative connotations, conjuring up images of selfishness, incompetence and evasion of responsibility, there are a number of common expressions using 'cover' that can be used more positively in the context of risk management to refer to good planning in terms of anticipating many possible outcomes including potential risks and extraordinary events:

Cover all the angles

Usually means 'to prepare for every possibility'. Random examples:

Starting a new business during a recession certainly carries many risks, but Tom is confident that he has covered all the angles.

Alice and Bob have tried to cover all the angles while strengthening their relationship.

This link gives a few more examples:


Cover all the bases

To account for or provide a way to address every possible outcome, scenario, contingency, etc.


Contingency planning

A contingency plan is a plan devised for an outcome other than in the usual (expected) plan. It is often used for risk management when an exceptional risk that, though unlikely, would have catastrophic consequences.


Expressions involving 'defence' which often have sporting or military origins can also be used to refer to good preparation for negative outcomes:

Tight defensive game

Well organised defence

Watertight defence.

Tom's long experience in unstable financial markets taught him to first protect his new company with a watertight defence.

Update: google search later led me to this exact duplicate of your question asked in 2012 right here on English.SE, which has many good suggestions to fit your case including 'cover all angles':

Better way to say "cover our a***s"

  • You know you leave me with no choice but to close the question as a duplicate.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 5, 2017 at 18:17
  • Now that OP has so many good options from both questions it may be OK @Mari-lou A. I think "cover your back" which you suggested is very much the closest polite alternative to CYA, especially since some anatomical definitions of 'back' refer to the entire posterior part of the body of a person in the standing position. Nov 5, 2017 at 18:29
  • Off you go, do the right thing and vote to close the question as being a duplicate.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 5, 2017 at 18:34
  • Don't you know I never vote to close @Mari-lou A? Please don't debate the matter -- I was well worked over for that reason by more than one member on IPS.SE! I am not at all particular that this question should be closed even if it is obviously a duplicate of the earlier question. More pedantic or conscientious users than you or I can do the deed here on English.SE Nov 5, 2017 at 18:38
  • So to clarify, you don't believe any question is off-topic, or if a question has been asked three or four times already it should always remain open.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 5, 2017 at 18:40

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