Idiom: Back Burner

Learn how to pronounce and use the idiom “back burner” in American English. Appropriate for casual use, or use at work and in a business setting!

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In this American English Pronunciation video, we’re going to go over the idiom ‘on the back burner’ to learn its meaning and pronunciation.

Just today I was writing an email to a business contact. I said: My bookkeeping project has been moved to the back burner for the time being.

What is the literal meaning of this?

This is a stove. It has four burners. And this is the back burner, here and here. Now, what’s in this pot isn’t that important right now. It doesn’t need much attention. So I’m just going to move it to the back burner. There we go. I have literally moved it to the back burner.

That’s the literal meaning of ‘back burner’. But the phrase ‘back burner’ is used more commonly as an idiom. You move something to the back burner when something else comes up that has become more important. It doesn’t mean you’re not going to work on it, it just means you’re not going to work on it right now or very much.

You may hear ‘back burner’ with the verb ‘move’ or ‘put’. Let’s put that on the back burner. Or simply ‘on’.

Let’s look at a few more examples of how to use this idiom before we discuss how to pronounce it.

Yeah, I have a lot going on. I should put some things on the back burner, but, I don’t really want to.

>> I had, just a big event at my work, and so now I’ve got a lot on my plate to try to deal with the post-event stuff as well as things that I had put on the back burner while I was working on the event.
>> Right.

Back burner. ‘Back’ is the most stressed syllable here. Baa-. It has a clear AA as in BAT vowel. Lift your tongue in the back, aa, and lift your upper lip just a little bit. Ba-. Back burner. We have a very soft K sound before the B. Back, kk, kk, kk. The tongue goes up to the soft palate and releases, kk. It’s not strong, KK, but pretty soft, kk, kk. Back, back, back burner.

‘Burner’ is a two-syllable word with stress on the first syllable. But it’s not as stressed as the word ‘back’. Let’s take some of the energy out of the voice to give contrast to ‘back’. Back burner, burner, burner. Back burner. Since the first syllable won’t be too stressed, we can make the first and last syllables sound the same, ur, ur, with a quick flip of the tongue for the N, -urner, -ner. UR, this vowel is a lot like the R consonant: flare the lips, and pull the tongue tip back and up, ur, ur. This part of the tongue can be either touching the roof of the mouth or the inside or bottom of the side teeth here, urr. And the tongue tip doesn’t touch anything. Urrrrnerrr. So the tongue just flaps up quickly for the N -urner, then right back down into position for the UR again. This time, even less energy is in the voice. Let the pitch go down, -ner, -er. This will give us the right sound. -Urner, -urner. Burner, back burner. Back burner.

Let’s look at the examples one more time.

Yeah, I have a lot going on. I should put some things on the back burner, but, I don’t really want to.

>> I had, just a big event at my work, and so now I’ve got a lot on my plate to try to deal with the post-event stuff as well as things that I had put on the back burner while I was working on the event.
>> Right.

Try it out. Think of a scenario where you could use the idiom and share it in the comments below.

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