on the back burner: meaning and explanation

If something is on the back burner, then it is not urgent – it is not a high priority issue for you, and you are not going to consider it or act on it at this time. You may come back to it in the future, but you have other, higher priority issues to focus on at the moment.

It may help you to know that this idiom comes from cooking – if you are multi-tasking and have something urgent or important to work on, then you will probably have that cooking close to you at the front. Less important or lower priority things can be left at the back.

As well as being used to genuinely say that you will consider something later, this idiom may be used as a polite way to reject an idea proposed by someone. Instead of just saying ‘no’, you’re saying ‘thank you, maybe later’. This can be a useful way to avoid embarrassing someone.

This idiom tends to be used with put, leave, keep and stay. If you put sth on the back burner, then you are deciding that it is a low priority issue. If you leave/keep sth on the back burner or want it to stay on the back burner, then you are deciding that something continues to be a low priority issue.

Have a go at these micro-dictation exercises to hear this expression being used in context – how much can you understand?

Listening exercises

Micro-listening #1

Accent: Scotland

, .
It’s , but we’ll the for now.
It’s an idea, but think we’ll it on the back for now.

Micro-listening #2

Accent: North America

, .
Sadly, have product on the .
Sadly, cuts have meant new product on the back .

About the sentence

…budget cuts have meant putting new product lines

We use to mean + ing to say that something is required or demanded by a certain situation. For example, if our company needs to hire additional staff due to higher than expected demand, we might say: This is great news, but it will mean taking on extra staff.

Micro-listening #3

Accent: England (RP)

, .
I’d love a , it’s got on the until we’ve .
Of I’d love a new website, it’s got to on the back until we’ve completed relocation.

Photo by John Legrand on Unsplash