If You Scratch My Back, I'll Scratch Yours (Origin)

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What Is the Origin of the Saying "If You Scratch My Back, I'll Scratch Yours"?

The term if you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours means to do someone a good deed if they do one for you. This term has a nautical derivation. In the English Navy during the 17th Century, the punishments for being absent, drunk, or disobedient were severe. One punishment would see the offender tied to the ship’s mast and flogged with a lash (known as a cat o' nine tails) by another crew member. Crew members struck deals between themselves that they would deliver only light lashes with the whip (i.e., just "scratching" the offender's back) to ensure they were treated the same should they ever found themselves on the receiving end at some time in the future.

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