performed with the hand turned backward, crosswise, or in any oblique direction so that the palm of the hand faces in the direction of the body and the back of the hand faces in the direction of forward movement.
sloping in a downward direction from left to right: backhanded writing.
oblique or ambiguous in meaning; indirect; insincere or malicious; wry: backhanded methods; a backhanded compliment.
Ropemaking. noting a rope in which the yarns and the strands are laid in the same direction, the rope itself being laid in the opposite direction.


with the hand across the body; backhand: He caught the ball backhanded.

Origin of backhanded

First recorded in 1790–1800; back2 + handed
Related formsback·hand·ed·ly, adverbback·hand·ed·ness, noun




a stroke, slap, etc., made with the palm of the hand turned toward the body and the back of the hand turned in the direction of the stroke, slap, etc.
(in tennis, squash, etc.) a stroke made from the side of the body opposite to that of the hand holding the racket, paddle, etc.
handwriting that slopes toward the left.


(in tennis, squash, etc.) of, relating to, or noting a stroke made from the side of the body opposite to that of the hand holding the racket, paddle, etc.Compare forehand(def 1).


with the back of the hand: He hit him backhand across the face.
from across the body; backhanded: She returned the ball backhand on the first serve.

verb (used with object)

to strike with the back of the hand.
to hit, produce, or accomplish with a backhand.
to catch (a ball or the like) backhanded.

Origin of backhand

First recorded in 1650–60; back2 + hand Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Related Words for backhanded

sarcastic, ambiguous, equivocal, sardonic, double-edged, two-edged

Examples from the Web for backhanded

Contemporary Examples of backhanded

  • Completing the motion, Howe pulled the puck back to his own left and backhanded it hard into the open side of the net.

  • Shawn sat up to say something, and he hauled off and backhanded her across the face.

  • I realized that the very narrowness of my complaints was backhanded evidence of the enormous amount that the film gets right.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Revisiting Lincoln

    Justin Green

    December 18, 2012

  • In his heyday, Richards had an eerily clinical and meticulous approach to drug use, a backhanded compliment to be sure.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Cavalcade of Bad Boy Flameouts

    Eric Dezenhall

    March 4, 2011

  • For these women, “crazy” is a backhanded compliment, a path on the road to fame.

    The Daily Beast logo
    Crazy Chick Flicks

    Ramin Setoodeh

    January 31, 2011

Historical Examples of backhanded

  • “I sympathize with you,” he said by way of backhanded congratulation.

  • Whatever this might mean, it was, at best, a backhanded compliment to Hartigan.

    The Preacher of Cedar Mountain

    Ernest Thompson Seton

  • Glyddyr turned upon him, and made a backhanded blow at his face.

    King of the Castle

    George Manville Fenn

  • A backhanded compliment of the acutest nature is credited to Lincoln as a lawyer and gentleman.

    The Lincoln Story Book

    Henry L. Williams

  • Lake slapped him across the mouth with a backhanded blow that snapped his head back on his shoulders and split his lip.

    Space Prison

    Tom Godwin

British Dictionary definitions for backhanded



(of a blow, shot, stroke, etc) performed with the arm moving across the body
double-edged; equivocala backhanded compliment
(of handwriting) slanting to the left
(of a rope) twisted in the opposite way to the normal right-handed direction


in a backhanded manner
Derived Formsbackhandedly, adverbbackhandedness, noun



  1. a stroke made across the body with the back of the hand facing the direction of the stroke
  2. (as modifier)a backhand return
the side on which backhand strokes are made
handwriting slanting to the left


with a backhand stroke

verb (tr)

sport to play (a shot) backhand
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for backhanded



as a tennis stroke, 1650s, from back (adv.) + hand. As a verb, by 1935. The figurative adjectival sense of "indirect" is from c.1800. Related: Backhanded; backhanding.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper