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[bak-ground] /ˈbækˌgraʊnd/
the ground or parts, as of a scene, situated in the rear (opposed to foreground).
Fine Arts.
  1. the part of a painted or carved surface against which represented objects and forms are perceived or depicted:
    a portrait against a purple background.
  2. the part of an image represented as being at maximum distance from the frontal plane.
one's origin, education, experience, etc., in relation to one's present character, status, etc.
the social, historical, and other antecedents or causes of an event or condition:
the background of the war.
the complex of physical, cultural, and psychological factors that serves as the environment of an event or experience; the set of conditions against which an occurrence is perceived.
Physics. the totality of effects that tend to obscure a phenomenon under investigation and above which the phenomenon must be detected.
Telecommunications. (in an electronic device for transmitting or receiving signals) the sum of the effects, as noise or random signals, from which a phenomenon must differentiate itself in character or degree in order to be detected.
of, relating to, or serving as a background:
background noise.
verb (used with object)
to supply a background to:
The passenger's idle thoughts were backgrounded by the drone of the plane's engines.
to supply a background of information for:
To background themselves, reporters dug through all available files on the case.
in / into the background, unobtrusive; inconspicuous; out of sight or notice; in or into obscurity:
He kept his dishonest dealings in the background.
Origin of background
1665-75; back1 + ground1
4. environment, circumstances, upbringing, milieu, element, sphere, medium. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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British Dictionary definitions for background


the part of a scene or view furthest from the viewer
  1. an inconspicuous or unobtrusive position (esp in the phrase in the background)
  2. (as modifier): a background influence
  1. the plane or ground in a picture upon which all other planes or forms appear superimposed
  2. the parts of a picture that appear most distant Compare foreground (sense 2), middle-distance (sense 2)
a person's social class, education, training, or experience
  1. the social, historical, or technical circumstances that lead up to or help to explain something: the background to the French Revolution
  2. (as modifier): background information
  1. a low level of sound, lighting, etc, whose purpose is to be an unobtrusive or appropriate accompaniment to something else, such as a social activity, conversation, or the action of a film
  2. (as modifier): background music
(physics) Also called background radiation. low-intensity radiation as, for example, from small amounts of radioisotopes in soil, air, building materials, etc
  1. unwanted effects, such as noise, occurring in a measuring instrument, electronic device, etc
  2. (as modifier): background interference
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
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Word Origin and History for background

1670s, from back (adj.) + ground (n.); original sense was theatrical, later applied to painting. Figurative sense is first attested 1854.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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background in Technology

1. A task running in the background (a background task) is detached from the terminal where it was started (and often running at a lower priority); opposite of foreground. This means that the task's input and output must be from/to files (or other processes).
Nowadays this term is primarily associated with Unix, but it appears to have been first used in this sense on OS/360.
Compare amp off, batch, slopsucker.
2. For a human to do a task "in the background" is to do it whenever foreground matters are not claiming your undivided attention, and "to background" something means to relegate it to a lower priority. "For now, we'll just print a list of nodes and links; I'm working on the graph-printing problem in the background." Note that this implies ongoing activity but at a reduced level or in spare time, in contrast to mainstream "back burner" (which connotes benign neglect until some future resumption of activity). Some people prefer to use the term for processing that they have queued up for their unconscious minds (often a fruitful tack to take upon encountering an obstacle in creative work).

The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010
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