walkback = "a partial retraction or softening of a previous statement that has been taken as definitive."

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 12 07:52:58 UTC 2011

In political commentary "walkback" is now being used quite regularly.
I've been seeing it or hearing it for roughly half a decade (likely
longer) and it never occurred to me to check its provenance.

This is why we need Jon--to remind us that even the obvious has a
history (and it was not so obvious once upon a time--although I often
get confused when that time was).

The combination is an obvious creation once you notice that politicians
make a statement then "walk it back" all the time--at least, in the
language of some observers.

[From a July 2007 comment on a political blog]
> Gonzales, with plenty of assistance from Fat Karl's side of the shop,
> will try to walk this back.

[From January 2008 comment on the same blog]
> If anything, I read this as him CLEANING UP what HRC has previously
> said. She's talked as if she's running for chief bureaucrat and not to
> be POTUS. His comments move her off this point without her having to
> walk it back.

[From a March 2010 comment on the same blog]
> After that claim fell apart and it became pretty evident that tubes of
> the same dimensions had been used for fairly ordinary rockets, she
> evidently tried to walk back her initial claims.

[And another from August 2010]
> Still, think about it. Here's you chance to walk back some of your
> hyperbole.

[Finally, from two /post/ on the same blog in May 2010--one verb and one
> But if that's the route legislators decide to go they'll have to walk
> back from earlier nods toward the importance of transparency.

> The Republican nominee for Senate in Kentucky, fresh off a
> much-discussed appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show last night in
> which he defended his past criticism of the Civil Rights Act,
> continued his walkback-turned-runback on CNN this afternoon by
> declaring that not only does he not favor a repeal of the Civil Rights
> Act, but that he would have voted for the landmark legislation had he
> been around at the time.

The verb signifies something other than simple retraction, however,
including a "saving face" component. The noun often picks up the same
shades of meaning--e.g., a Republican politician criticizing Rush
Limbaugh usually offers a walkback (if not an outright mea culpa) the
next day.

And here's Matt Yglesias's post from June 8, 2006:

> [Title: ] Sopranos Partial Walkback
> After reading Scott Lemieux and Sommer on Season 6 of The Sopranos I'm
> prepared to walk back a little. A little. Obviously, it's still a good
> show -- much better than most things on television now or historically.

Here, you got both a verb and a noun in the same context (the noun is in
the title), four and a half year ago.


PS: I might have tried to make a joke at Jon Lighter's expense, but it
was by no means meant as criticism or disrespect. I really do appreciate
a reminder not to take anything for granted.

On 1/11/2011 4:16 PM, Jonathan Lighter wrote:
> CNN reports that VP Biden's statement that troops may remain in Afghanistan
> after 2014 "if requested by the Afghan government"
> is "a walkback of an earlier statement" promising they would be out.
> Here's an earlier ex.:
> 2010 Rachel Sklar at _Mediaite_
> http://www.mediaite.com/columnists/obama-and-the-mosque-its-not-that-hard-people/
> (Aug. 16): This is why Obama's statement at Panama Beach that he was "not
> commenting on the wisdom" of the project was not a walkback of his initial
> statement on the Mosque. The right to build exists whether it's "wise" or not.
> That's about the time I first noticed it.
> JL

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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