8

I encounter the phrase 「背中を押す」 in many Japanese songs,

and I'm having the feeling that it is a phrase not having the obvious meaning of "to push one's back".

What's the meaning of this phrase?

Thank you.

  • 2
    Why did you think it was reflexive? It could also mean "to push someone's back", right? – Earthliŋ Jul 1 '16 at 11:36
10

背中を押す means "encourage someone to do something." It's a figurative expression meaning "to motivate someone to go ahead by pushing his / her back."

For example:

アメリカに留学しようかどうか迷っていたが、その時母親が背中を押してくれた
I was hesitating to study in the United States, but my mom encouraged me to do so at that time.

我々は新製品を[市場化]{しじょうか}できるかどうか決めかねていたが、部長が背中を押してくれた
We weren't so confident of the marketability of the new product, but the Department manager strongly supported us to launch the product.


Sidenote:

"背中を押す" means "to encourage" and has a positive meaning. But "肩を[叩]{たた}く" means "give a warning before handing over a pink-slip" or "persuade an employee to resign."

"昨日ボスから肩たたきにあった" means "I was told to consider myself resignation (or early retirement) by my boss yesterday." Mind that "back" and "shoulder" and "push" and "tap" make a great difference for you.

9

The expression 背中を押す literally means "to push [someone's] back", but it is often used idiomatically (just like in English) in the sense of "push [someone to do something]" or "help [someone to do something]".

I think it can be used both in the sense of

  1. pushing someone to do something they're still hesitating to do, or
  2. helping/encouraging someone to do something they want to do, but for which they lack the necessary courage/strength

For example, in the context of delivering a love letter, 背中を押してくれた could mean

  1. "he delivered the letter for me, even though I hadn't decided whether to deliver it or not" (sense 1), or

  2. "he gave me the courage to deliver the letter by myself (by talking me into it)" (sense 2).

5

It means to "encourage" someone to take action.

http://www.weblio.jp/content/%E8%83%8C%E4%B8%AD%E3%82%92%E6%8A%BC%E3%81%99

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