Pat on the Back – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to tell someone that they did a good job at work? You could tell them they deserve a “pat on the back” for their actions. Let’s unpack the meaning, origin, and use of this phrase.

Pat on the Back Meaning

The meaning of “pat on the back” is a verbal adaptation of the physical act of patting someone on the back. In most of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, employees would receive a pat on the back from the boss or manager if they did a good job at work.

However, over recent decades, we’re moving away from making physical gestures in the office. As a result, many people started using the phrase as a verbal gesture with the same meaning as the physical act of patting someone on the back.

Patting someone on the back can have a positive or negative connotation to the phrase. If the employee does a good job, you give them a pat on the back as a way to say thanks for their efforts. It’s a symbol of recognition, motivating the employee to continue to perform.

However, the phrase can also have a negative connotation to it, with a sarcastic overtone. For instance, if the employee were to lose a client, the manager could say, “you deserve a pat on the back for that,” as a show of sarcasm to tell the employee to improve.

Pat on the Back Example Usage

“My boss gave me a pat on the back for landing that new client at the conference today.”

“My dad’s idea of a pat on the back is lifting his eyebrows at you and grunting.”

“Julie organized the party all by herself; she deserves a pat on the back from everyone for her efforts.”

“So, you think you deserve a pat on the back for telling mom I broke the window?”

“The coach gave his striker a pat on the back after sinking his first penalty for the team under pressure.”

“For everything you did for the company, you deserve a pat on the back and a raise.”

“My dad gave me a pat on the back after I landed that marlin on our deep sea fishing trip.”

“Don’t give yourself a pat on the back just yet; you haven’t finished the interior of the car.”

“The frontline medical staff deserve a pat on the back for their service.”

Pat on the back, Juan, you just cost the company a $100,000 contract, you moron.”

Pat on the Back Origin

The use of “pat on the back” goes back to the 1800s. The phrase is the verbal derivative of the act of patting someone on the back for doing a good job.

However, the pat on the back rarely happens in the workplace or between friends anymore. Nowadays, it’s a verbal cue to tell someone they did a good job.

Phrases Similar to Pat on the Back

  • Good job.
  • Well done.
  • Congratulations.

Phrases Opposite to Pat on the Back

  • Let me have it.
  • Told me off.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Pat on the back.

Ways People May Say Pat on the Back Incorrectly

People may say “pat on the back” incorrectly or in the wrong context. Using the phrase sarcastically to your superior at work could result in them charging you with insubordination.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Pat on the Back

You can say “pat on the back” to people when they do a good job or make a disaster of things. It applies to professional and social situations. However, in some professional settings, it may also negatively describe employees’ or colleagues’ actions, and in social settings, the phrase can also have sarcastic use.

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