[bak-waw-ter, -wot-er]


water held or forced back, as by a dam, flood, or tide.
a place or state of stagnant backwardness: This area of the country is a backwater that continues to resist progress.
an isolated, peaceful place.
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 Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2019

Examples from the Web for backwater

Contemporary Examples of backwater

Historical Examples of backwater

  • The sun had set, and the backwater, in deep shadow, was filling with a gentle haze.

    Howards End

    E. M. Forster

  • Was it the backwater of my disgrace, I wonder, that has overwhelmed poor Gill?'

    Lord Kilgobbin

    Charles Lever

  • Then he had seemed to himself in the backwater, out of the throng of existence.

    The Arbiter

    Lady F. E. E. Bell

  • He came to the island, and let his boat slide into the backwater.

    The Dark Flower

    John Galsworthy

  • The backwater was not a happy place—they would not stay there a single minute.

    The Dark Flower

    John Galsworthy

British Dictionary definitions for backwater



a body of stagnant water connected to a river
water held or driven back, as by a dam, flood, or tide
an isolated, backward, or intellectually stagnant place or condition

verb back water

(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

Word Origin and History for backwater

late 14c., "water behind a dam," from back (adj.) + water (n.). Hence flat water without a current near a flowing river, as in a mill race (1820); figurative use of this for any flat, dull place is from 1899.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper