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General Writing and Grammar Help/Speak ill of someone behind his/her back

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Question
Dear Ted:

Does the expression "to speak/talk ill of someone behind his/her back" exist?

If so, would you please give me some examples of how to use it correctly?

Also, would you please give me some formal and informal/idiomatic/colloquial alternatives to the above expression?

By the way, is it an expression?

Thank you very much for the help.

Paolo

Answer
Dear Paolo:

Does the expression "to speak/talk ill of someone behind his/her back" exist?

*** It exists, but the usual expression is "to talk behind his/her back."  Because you are not talking about the person directly [as in "face-to-face"], the phrase has the connotation of saying thoughtless or hurtful words.  That's "speaking ill."

If so, would you please give me some examples of how to use it correctly?

Jane ended her friendship with John, when she discovered he had been talking behind her back.

No one really knew the truth about the rape.  There were only rumors, and they were spoken behind the victim's back.

Also, would you please give me some formal and informal/idiomatic/colloquial
alternatives to the above expression?

*** whisper secretly
   tell secretly
   spread rumors
   "dish the dirt" -- slang expression

By the way, is it an expression?

*** It is a well-known expression, but it is not an idiom or a colloquialism.  There IS a related idiomatic expression:  "stab someone's back."  The stabbing is not done with a knife; it is done with negative words.

I thought Joe was my friend, but he really stabbed me in the back by making up false stories about me.

Ted

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Ted Nesbitt

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I am the bibliographic instruction and reference librarian at a public college. Some members of the English department recommend me to their students. I offer assistance in grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, and paragraph development. My master`s thesis concerns William Faulkner`s tragic novels. I formerly taught advanced placement English at two schools in the Philadelphia area.

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I have been one of the highest-ranked volunteers in this category for more than a decade.

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B. A. and M. A in English; MSIS in Library & Information Sciences; graduate study in philosophy

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