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Posted by Bruce Kahl on August 18, 2004

In Reply to: Phrase posted by dini b on August 18, 2004

: does anyone know the origin of the phrase 'the back forty?" I know it is agricultural in origin and thought it would be easy to find, but it hasnt been!

From a site whose page I closed before I could reference for you:

'The back forty' is a beloved American idiom. In the US, 1 township is 36 square miles (6 miles by 6 miles). Each square mile (a section of land) is divided into 16 subdivisions of 40 acres (1/4 mile by 1/4 mile)-- so a quarter section is 160 acres, a common unit of ownership in the early days of farming. The quarter-section farmer would own two 'front 40s' and two 'back 40s'. After the Civil War, former slaves were by some accounts offered reparations consisting of 'forty acres and a mule'."