scratch back


scratch back
also, you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours

Meaning | Synonyms

  • do someone a favour hoping that a favour will be returned
  • help someone with something difficult, expecting to be helped back when needed

Example Sentences

  1. I don’t mind helping him out this time, he’s scratched my back many times.
  2. I’ve scratched your back often, now it’s your turn. Do me this favour and we’re even.
  3. I’ll finish your work if you get the groceries for me – you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.
  4. The corrupt official escaped punishment because he has been scratching the minister’s back.
  5. To successfully run a big business empire, you have to scratch the government’s back occasionally.
  6. I needed some information which he would not have given me, so I had to scratch his back to get it.


The phrase “you scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours” originated in the English Navy during the 1600s. It refers to a punishment for indiscipline where the offender would be tied to the mast and lashed. The crew members made a deal among themselves to deliver light lashes, in effect, just scratching the offender’s back. The shortened version of the phrase “scratch someone’s back” was first recorded in 1704.

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This is not supported by Oxford and I suspect is an example of how folk etymology is attracted to supposedly sinister origins for ordinary things. There are similar idioms in many languages such as one hand washes the other and it seems highly unlikely the English version has a different origin.

- SB September 28, 2021

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