[ bak-waw-ter, -wot-er ]
See synonyms for backwater on
  1. water held or forced back, as by a dam, flood, or tide.

  2. a place or state of stagnant backwardness: This area of the country is a backwater that continues to resist progress.

  1. an isolated, peaceful place.

  2. a stroke executed by pushing a paddle forward, causing a canoe to move backward.

Origin of backwater

1350–1400; Middle English bakwateres;see back2, water

Words Nearby backwater Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2023

How to use backwater in a sentence

  • The rugged pioneer community had become, I suddenly saw, a rural backwater.

    The Idyl of Twin Fires | Walter Prichard Eaton
  • Once swung out of that backwater they had been swept away, powerless to know where they went, to guess what was their destination.

    The Hidden Places | Bertrand W. Sinclair
  • At last only fourteen of the English were left alive and they got hopelessly penned in a backwater.

  • Why, you both look as you did that night the backwater of the South Fork came into our cabin.

    The Three Partners | Bret Harte
  • The blue heron rose heavily from the backwater, and winged his slow flight high above the trees.

    Creatures of the Night | Alfred W. Rees

British Dictionary definitions for backwater


/ (ˈbækˌwɔːtə) /

  1. a body of stagnant water connected to a river

  2. water held or driven back, as by a dam, flood, or tide

  1. an isolated, backward, or intellectually stagnant place or condition

verbback water
  1. (intr) to reverse the direction of a boat, esp to push the oars of a rowing boat

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

Other Idioms and Phrases with backwater


Reverse a position, take back a statement, or otherwise retreat, as in We're sure that the senator will back water on raising taxes. This term literally refers to a vessel that moves backward in the water because its oars, paddles, or paddlewheel are reversed. It soon was transferred to other kinds of reversal. [Second half of 1700s]

The American Heritage® Idioms Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.