Kickback – definition and meaning

A kickback can mean a bribe, payoff, or backhander. We consider kickbacks in the form of cash, credit, or gifts as corrupt practices. The word can also mean a strong reaction, i.e., a sudden forceful recoil.

When you fire a rifle, for example, the weapon can recoil into your shoulder. We call that recoiling action a kickback.

Recoil, when talking about guns, can also mean to push upward. Kickbacks only move back into the shooter’s body; never upward.

There are also kickbacks we can do in exercise workouts. One leg, for example, starts off bent and then stretches out backward until it is straight. The leg kicks back in the same way a horse kicks with its hind legs.

With triceps kickbacks, an arm starts off bent and then stretches out backward.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary has the following definitions of the term:

“1. A return of a part of a sum received often because of confidential agreement or coercion. 2. A sharp violent reaction.”

This article focuses on the meaning of the word when it relates to corrupt or unethical practices.

Public officials have been receiving kickbacks for favors for hundreds and even thousands of years.

Kickback – bribe

Kickbacks are bribes in which one person pays a sum of money to somebody else. The payer aims to receive a favor, services, or something from the bribe-taker.

The bribe may also be a gift, such as a car, house, jewelry. It may even be a favor.

In the vast majority of cases, the action is illegal. In other words, the bribe is usually to encourage the bribe-taker to break the law. Additionally, the negotiating parties usually make the arrangement ahead of time.

Wikipedia says the following regarding kickbacks:

“The kickback varies from other kinds of bribes in that there is implied collusion between agents of the two parties, rather than one party extorting the bribe from the other.”

In business, the most common kickbacks involve the vendor submitting an inflated invoice. In other words, the invoice is for goods or services that the purchaser does not require.

Some invoices are for goods of inferior quality. They could, in fact, be for both inferior goods and things the purchaser does not need. Goods, in this context, means products.

The person responsible for securing the payment receives payment in the form of cash, goods, or services. Payment may also be in the form of a favor.

For example, somebody may suddenly offer a job to the bribe-taker’s wife or brother.

We call people who help link the two parties ‘kickback brokers.’

Kickbacks common in some countries

In some countries, where kickbacks are common, corrupt politicians and public officials have nicknames. For example, in Indonesia, President Suharto’s nickname was Mr. Twenty-Five Percent. This meant that companies wishing to win government contracts had to give him a kickback worth 25% of the deal.

The kickback culture exists everywhere, even in the advanced economies. In 1987 in the United States, for example, Congress passed the stringent Anti-Kickback Act.

‘Kickback’ may mean a Russian air-to-surface missile or an online gaming website ( The word may also refer to a character that is part of The Transformers toy line.

Video – What is a kickback

In this video, Jason Mance Gordon explains what kickbacks are. He says the term refers to the action of giving someone something of value. The person who is bribing aims to influence the other person in their professional capacity.

The payer wants to gain advantage for himself or herself.