Please settle a perennial naming controversy
August 19, 2018 5:19 AM   Subscribe

Which part of a backpack is the front? Is it the part with the straps, which is at the front when you wear the backpack, or is it the outermost part that faces you when you're following a person wearing a backpack?

This is a recurring source of disagreement in our house. I've always taken the view that the outermost zip-up pocket on a backpack, the one where you keep the mosquito repellent and the chapstick and the sandwiches and assorted other loose bits and bobs that shouldn't be crushed while you're walking with one, is the back pocket. Because it's the pocket at the very back of the pack, and it faces the same way as the back pockets on my shorts.

Both ms. flabdablet and young ms. flabdablet, however, are in no doubt whatsoever that this is the front pocket because of course it's the front pocket because it's the one that's closest to you when the pack is on the floor, and furthermore we don't care about your stupid shorts, Dad, because you're just wrong, deal with it.

Is this one of those cultural things where both views are arguable and have committed lifelong supporters, like folding/wadding or over/under or sitting/standing or ask/guess, or have I simply been mistaken about this for my whole life? Do backpacks indeed fit backwards onto the human body?
posted by flabdablet to Grab Bag (28 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
 
Consider backpacks that look like cute cuddly animals. Do they have their eyes on the side that's smushed up against your back where they can't see anything? Or are their eyes on the backpack's front, where eyes go?
posted by moonmilk at 5:23 AM on August 19, 2018 [44 favorites]


Oooh, I know I'm a traitor to a fellow father, but here's definitive proof. "Front" pocket. No question.
posted by Floydd at 5:30 AM on August 19, 2018 [12 favorites]


When you are facing a large tree, and there is a squirrel at the base, between you and the tree: do you say the squirrel is in front of the tree, or behind it?
Some cultures say of course it’s in front, others say of course it’s behind. There’s some linguistics research on the matter I can dig up later if you’re interested.

Anyway, I’d agree with them and not you, the little pockets are the front. But it’s like asking to turn the AC down. You have to specify you mean you want it colder or warmer, or suffer the consequences of a reasonably different interpretation.
posted by SaltySalticid at 5:32 AM on August 19, 2018 [13 favorites]


More evidence for "front pocket."
posted by taz at 5:33 AM on August 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


Forget backpacks for a second and consider a satchel.

Here's one. Look at it. What is the front of the satchel? What is the back of the satchel? I think most people would consider the front of the satchel to be the part with the flap-over, the part that the models on this page are holding facing out to the world.

Now, what if we added backpack straps to that satchel? Like so. Does the front of the satchel suddenly become the back just because of the straps? I think most people would say that it does not.
posted by phunniemee at 5:35 AM on August 19, 2018 [11 favorites]


When you're wearing a backpack your backs are back to back (your back and the back of the backpack).

Except when you're wearing it on your front to keep it in sight. Then the front pocket's at the front.

Although if it's a backpack in the shape of a whole animal on your back, then wearing it with its back to your back would be back-to-front. They don't tend to have extra pockets, at least.

Anyway yes. Front pocket. My backpack has a back pocket for a laptop, at the back.
posted by lokta at 5:36 AM on August 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


My reasoning is silly, but since the pocket you’re referring to is the furthest thing from the front of your body when you’re wearing the backpack, it is thus the back of the backpack, but that’s kind of a double negative so therefore it’s the front pocket.
posted by coppermoss at 5:36 AM on August 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


When wearing a backpack the usual way, with the pack on your back, the back of the pack is touching your back and the front of the backpack is the furthest part from your front. I've never heard of it done the other way. I agree that it's confusing that the backpack is essentially facing opposite you, but your way is also confusing because it doesn't make sense if no one is wearing the pack. I think it could have gone either way but by conveniention the front has all the pockets. phunniemee makes a good point that this is analogous to a satchel.

Since I agree that it's a bit confusing either way, I tend to add vertical directions when referring to pockets. A small pocket near my head is "near the top" and the small pocket near the bottom of the pack is "on the bottom" or "front bottom." Makes it just a touch more clear.
posted by Tehhund at 6:00 AM on August 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


"is it the outermost part that faces you when you're following a person wearing a backpack?"

This. Though one could avoid confusion and disagreement by referring to that pocket as the outermost pocket which is what I did when in this situation as an agree to disagree compromise.
posted by Mitheral at 6:36 AM on August 19, 2018


It's not about what's in front when you're WEARING the backpack. It's about what's in front when you're ADDRESSING the backpack--packing it, getting things in and out, etc. In which case the "back" is the part with the straps and the "front" is the little pouch.
posted by gideonfrog at 6:39 AM on August 19, 2018 [10 favorites]


Front of the backpack is the side that faces out when you wear it. Back is the side with straps. Front is facing the world, back is turned away from the world.
posted by windykites at 6:47 AM on August 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


This should settle it
posted by adamrice at 6:50 AM on August 19, 2018 [7 favorites]


As with buildings, mailboxes, bureaus - the front is the area you enter through, open, or that faces the public. A quick google shows this definition for front: the side or part of an object that presents itself to view or that is normally seen or used first

Use this opportunity to score big points with your family by admitting that they are right. Save up those points for a rainy day.
posted by bunderful at 6:51 AM on August 19, 2018 [23 favorites]


You people are monsters. Monsters. I bare the front of my bottom at the whole boiling of you.

OK, I concede.
posted by flabdablet at 7:02 AM on August 19, 2018 [21 favorites]


You owe them some donuts.
posted by amanda at 7:09 AM on August 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


You and your backpack are not spooning. You and your backpack go out into the world back to back, like two warriors surrounded by enemies. The part with pockets is the front. (I found school scary as a kid, and this is how I still think of it.)

One more vote for the consensus. Kind shocked most answerers seem to agree on this one.
posted by Rinku at 7:12 AM on August 19, 2018 [29 favorites]


flabdablet, you owe it to yourself and to SCIENCE!! to create a Klein backpack that doesn't have front or back, inside or outside.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:25 AM on August 19, 2018 [10 favorites]


But a backpack is not a mailbox. If someone refers to what I call the front of the mailbox as the back, they are clearly wrong.

But, if you call the front of the backpack what I consider back, we are simply miscommunicating due to operating under different paradigms. That’s why I gave the tree example above. Mailboxes don’t move around, and have a consistent facing. Backpacks do move around, and do not have a consistent facing. Trees can have facings, but they channge based upon where the speaker is.

Bunderful quotes a nice definition but their conclusion that it supports one view over the other is not correct. For example, many of us often use or access the backpack while they straps are facing us, making what most of us are calling the back the front, and thus that definition also supports your original claim.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:45 AM on August 19, 2018


I would say that the front of the backpack is the side that faces out when worn, but that the pocket farthest from your body, and thus the closest to the front, is the back pocket. Backpacks contain multitudes.
posted by bowbeacon at 7:46 AM on August 19, 2018 [2 favorites]


Also, if you want to continue your rebellion against your family, you can simply cease to refer to "front" or "back" parts of a backpack and use "outer" and "inner," so that what your family calls the front pocket is the outermost pocket.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:55 AM on August 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


Here is a nice pdf discussing the linguistics of frames of reference. Pages 7-12 are the parts most relevant here.

To sum up, I think you’re wrong, but I can only speak for generic AmEng. In other languages or varieties of English, you could be right.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:58 AM on August 19, 2018


Just think how much joy it'll bring the wife and kid to announce that Dad is wrong! (Because you are). The pockets/access is the front.
posted by TwoStride at 8:04 AM on August 19, 2018


Skip front and back, take a page from biology and call them the dorsal (with the outside pockets) and ventral (the part against your back) sides.

Of course, this assumes you don't sometimes wear the backpack on your front.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:10 AM on August 19, 2018 [3 favorites]


I must slightly disagree with the consensus in one specific scenario. If the backpack is being worn in the normal fashion, and I am the wearer, then the back of the backpack is the part opposite of the straps. I would say “put this in the back of the backpack for me” and not “put this in the front of the backpack for me”. However, in reality I’d put the thing in the backpack pocket myself, as I’d be certain whoever I asked would get it wrong. To do this I would remove the backpack and put the thing into its front pocket and be done with it.
posted by forforf at 10:52 AM on August 19, 2018 [1 favorite]


I would say “put this in the back of the backpack for me” and not “put this in the front of the backpack for me”.

See, to me, "front" and "back" would only distinguish between big and smaller pockets. "Put this in the back of the backpack" would tell me to put whatever it was in the main compartment, probably the laptop space, to get ultra-specific.
posted by TwoStride at 10:59 AM on August 19, 2018


You and your backpack are not spooning. You and your backpack go out into the world back to back, like two warriors surrounded by enemies. The part with pockets is the front. (I found school scary as a kid, and this is how I still think of it.)

Yo Backpack Y U Frontin?
posted by srboisvert at 3:23 PM on August 19, 2018


A backpack has neither front nor back! It has a main pocket and an outside pocket.
posted by actionstations at 7:19 PM on August 19, 2018


I agree with you, and my wife agrees with your wife and daughter. My argument is this: the canonical orientation of a backpack is the way it sits when it is on your back. Therefore the back of the backpack is the part that is farthest from you when you are wearing it. I admit that it feels strange to call the part of the backpack that sits next to your back the front. I therefore assert that a backpack has no front. It has a back, and it has another side that never needs to be referred to by name.

My wife and I have agreed that we refer to the small pocket on the back (well, what you and I call the back and apparently everybody else calls the front) as the "frontispouch". I know that that sounds a lot like "front", but somehow it makes me feel that I haven't entirely lost the argument. Yes, this is the hill I want to die on, thank you very much.
posted by number9dream at 8:50 PM on August 19, 2018 [4 favorites]


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