backlog: meaning and explanation

A backlog is a word we use to describe any work, jobs, or chores that we need to work through or complete.

This word communicates the idea that this work has built up or accumulated, maybe because we cannot work quickly enough to keep up with the new work, or maybe because we were away or busy and unable to complete the tasks.

You can specify what kind of work has built up by saying ‘an email backlog’ or ‘a backlog of emails’.

When we talk about doing the work, it is common to talk about working through a backlog or clearing a backlog. e.g. After 6 hours, I had finally worked through my backlog of work and could focus on that afternoon’s meeting.

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

Dictation #1

Accent: North America

first day back my holiday my email .
I my first day back work after my holiday to clear my email .

…I spent my first day back at work trying to clear…

Notice the two useful verb patterns to spend time doing something and to try to do sth.

Discussion questions

Write your answers to these questions in the comments section, and I’ll get back to you with some feedback:

  • Can you think of a time when you had to clear a massive backlog? What caused it?
  • The origin of this idiom makes it easier to understand the meaning. Can you find out where the word ‘backlog’ comes from?

Photo by Pär Pärsson on Unsplash

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