Aussie Life

Language

9 April 2022

9:00 AM

9 April 2022

9:00 AM

The expression ‘to walk back’ has exploded over the news recently. We have been told by the news media that the US State Department had to ‘walk back’ comments made by Joe Biden during his visit to Europe. They had to ‘walk back’ his apparent suggestion to US troops they would soon be in Ukraine; and then ‘walk back’ his apparent call for regime change in Russia. Biden, responding at a media conference, angrily denied that was ‘walking back’ anything – he had just been misunderstood. According to the American Merriam-Webster dictionary the verb ‘to walk back’ means: ‘to retreat from or distance oneself from (a previously stated opinion or position)’. But it leaves a lot unsaid. Is the retreat from a mistake? Or a lie? Or a muddle? And why this particular metaphor? I have been unable to trace its source, but my guess is that it is fairly recent. I searched through the Australian National Corpus and couldn’t find an example there; and it is not in the Oxford English Dictionary (even the most up-to-date online version). So, we can conclude that it is a) American, b) very recent, and c) is nothing more than a variation on the old ‘foot in mouth’ syndrome!

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