row back: Idiom Meaning and Origin

What does ‘row back’ mean?

The idiom "row back" means to retract or reverse a previous decision, statement, or action.

Idiom Explorer

Unraveling the Nautical Origins

Row back is an idiom that means to reverse direction or position. It originated from the nautical term "to row a boat backwards." This idiom is widely used in British English and has gained some usage in American English as well.

The idiom "row back" has a long history and was first recorded in the early 19th century. Its literal meaning relates to rowing a boat in reverse, where the rower or rowers reposition the oars and row in the opposite direction. This physical action of rowing backward has been metaphorically extended to describe a figurative change or retraction of an opinion, decision, or action.

When someone "rows back," they are retracting or reversing a previous statement, position, or commitment. It is like saying they are "taking a step back" or "changing their mind." This idiom is often used to describe situations where a person modifies or withdraws their initial stance due to new information, a change in circumstances, or reconsideration. It suggests the act of backpedaling or correcting one's course.

Tags help categorise and single word can row back.

The idiom can also be used to describe the act of changing one's mind or taking a more cautious approach after encountering resistance, criticism, or negative consequences. In this sense, "rowing back" implies a sense of retreat or scaling back of one's original intentions or assertions. It is similar to the idiom "backing down" or "reversing course."

Due to its metaphorical nature, the idiom "row back" is not restricted to any specific domain or context. It can be used in various social, professional, and political settings to describe a wide range of situations where the shift in opinion or action is significant. It is like saying "he doubled back on his previous statement" or "she backpedaled on her initial decision."

It is worth noting that "row back" is primarily used in British English, but it has gained some recognition and limited usage in American English as well. As with many idioms, its frequency and familiarity can vary across different regions and linguistic communities.

The idiom "row back" originated from the nautical term "to row a boat backwards" and has metaphorically extended to describe the act of reversing or retracting a previous statement, position, or commitment. It is widely used in British English and has some recognition in American English. Whether one is "rowing back" due to new information, reconsideration, or encountering resistance, the idiom suggests a change in direction or a more cautious approach. As with any idiomatic expression, its usage and familiarity may vary, but the underlying concept of reversibility remains a constant.

Example usage

Examples of how the idiom "row back" can be used in a sentence:

  1. He realized he was wrong and decided to row back on his previous statement.
  2. After facing backlash, the company decided to row back on their controversial decision.
  3. The politician had to row back on his promises after it became clear they were not feasible.

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