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  1. a check to progress; a reverse or defeat: The new law was a setback.
  2. Architecture. a recession of the upper part of a building from the building line, as to lighten the structure or to permit a desired amount of light and air to reach ground level at the foot of the building.
  3. an act or instance of setting back: A nightly setback of your home thermostats can save a great deal of fuel.
  4. Also set-back. a downward temperature adjustment of a thermostat, especially performed automatically, as by a timer.

Origin of setback

First recorded in 1665–75; noun use of verb phrase set back


  1. Surveying. the interval by which a chain or tape exceeds the length being measured.
  2. setback(def 4).

Origin of set-back

special use of setback Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for setback

Contemporary Examples of setback

Historical Examples of setback

Word Origin and History for setback

also set-back, 1670s, "reversal, check to progress," from set (v.) + back (adv.). Sometimes backset was used in the same sense. Meaning "space between a building and a property line" is from 1916. To set (someone) back "cost" is from 1900.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper