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The meaning and origin of the expression: Backward in coming forward

Backward in coming forward

What's the meaning of the phrase 'Backward in coming forward'?

Shy or reluctant to do something. Here 'backward' means shy or unwilling; 'come forward' means present oneself into view.

What's the origin of the phrase 'Backward in coming forward'?

'Backward in coming forward' first began to appear in print early 19th century England. The 'come forward' part of the expression had long been used with the meaning 'announce oneself'. An early example of that usage in print is found in the English poet William Neville's mystical poem Castell of Pleasure, 1518:

Come forward and be not afrayd your selfe to auaunce.

The first example of 'backward in coming forward' in print that I know of is in Cobbett's Annual Register, Volume 4, July-December 1803:

"Is it matter of surprise that men proud of their birth, of their hereditary honours, of their ancient families, should be backward to come forward..."

The expression is less used now than it was in the first half of the 20th century, although it is still quite commonplace where I live in the north of England. As is well-known in the UK, Yorkshire folk are not renowned for being backward in coming forward.

Gary Martin - the author of the website.

By Gary Martin

Gary Martin is a writer and researcher on the origins of phrases and the creator of the Phrase Finder website. Over the past 26 years more than 700 million of his pages have been downloaded by readers. He is one of the most popular and trusted sources of information on phrases and idioms.

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