back-pats / back pats

Discussion in 'English Only' started by perpend, Jan 21, 2013.

  1. perpend

    perpend Banned

    American English
  2. heypresto

    heypresto Senior Member

    South East England
    English - England
    I don't profess to be a grammarian, but I would say a hyphen would be good.

    Perhaps you should wait till tomorrow, when you won't be so hyphen-obsessed, and the problem will disappear? ;)
  3. Myridon

    Myridon Senior Member

    English - US
    No one here but us chickens.
    Let's not be hesitant with our compound words. Why not promote it all the way to "backpats"?
    What governing board is telling you you "should" or "shouldn't"?
  4. natkretep

    natkretep Moderato con anima (English Only)

    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    But what is wrong with it as two words? Back modifies pats, and the phrase is analogous to back scrub, back massage or back pain. This is quite different from things like put-down or cock-up​, where the first word doesn't modify the second one.
  5. perpend

    perpend Banned

    American English
    After I read it, Myridon, I full expected to find it as one word "backpats" in Merriam-Webster. Imagine my surprise! :)

    Those are interesting cases to ponder. Thanks, natkretep. I guess there are different kinds of "pats", but seems that a "pat on the back" is just so fixed. Hmmm. I guess you are right, it just qualifies what type of pat.
  6. wandle

    wandle Senior Member

    English - British
    But there are not other types of pat. We do not say 'pat on the front' or 'pat on the side', partly at least because we do not pat people on the side.

    Of course, someone might well, as a matter of fact, pat someone on the side: but we do not recognise 'a pat on the side' as a gesture with a significant meaning, whereas 'a pat on the back' is recognised as a gesture of approval or reassurance. That emotional message is what is really being referred to in the phrase 'a pat on the back'.

    My recommendation: for the sake of good English style, stick to saying 'pat on the back', even though it is longer:
    except in the case where you have already referred to pats on the back earlier in your text and you now need a shorter expression in order to avoid close repetition. In that case, say 'back pat' by analogy with 'leg pull'.
    Last edited: Jan 22, 2013

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