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Back to the wall

Posted by ESC on May 05, 2000

In Reply to: Backs against the wall posted by Bob on May 04, 2000

: : My understanding of this phrase is that basically it means to be in a very difficult position.
: : Does anybody know the origin of this phrase?
: : (My son's suggestion was maybe it comes from from being lined up against a wall about to be shot by a firing squad?!)

: A situation so difficult, in fact, that you have no possibiity of retreat. You're obliged to take the offensive. Do or die.

"Fighting Words: from War, Rebellion, and Other Combative Capers" by Christine Ammer (NTC Publishing Group, Chicago, 1989, 1999) "with one's back to the wall -- Hard-pressed, making a last stand. The expression comes from fighting. Literally backing up against a wall prevents an attack from the rear but also may prevent further retreat. The term has been used since the sixteenth century but became famous near the end of World War I, when General Douglas Haig of Great Britain, according to the London Times (April 13, 1918), ordered his troops 'Every position must be held to the last man...With our backs to the wall, and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight on to the end.'"

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