- the seaward, subsurface flow or draft of water from waves breaking on a beach.
- any strong current below the surface of a body of water, moving in a direction different from that of the surface current.
Origin of undertow
SynonymsSee more synonyms for undertow on Thesaurus.com
2. Undertow, underset, riptide are terms for a usually strong undercurrent in the ocean, contrary to the direction of surface water. Undertow and another nautical term, underset (a set or current contrary to the general set of the water, or contrary to the wind), came into notice early in the 19th century. The former is still in general use along the Atlantic coast; the latter now less well known. Rip, in use in the U.S. by the late 18th century, properly means a violently disturbed place in a body of water, usually by the meeting of opposing tides. Of recent years, in the form riptide, it has also been used, especially on the Pacific coast, to mean much the same as undertow, dangerous to bathers where heavy surf prevails.
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018
Examples from the Web for undertow
This undertow, of violence and duplicitousness and frustration, paradoxically propels the book forward.Teju Cole’s Keen Eye Spares No One—Himself Included
July 9, 2014
But life itself is messy and unceremonious; it cannot stop too long for death without losing itself to the undertow.Memorial Days After Mourning Has Passed
May 25, 2014
"All along the undertow is strengthening its hold," Cuomo sang.Remembering Weezer’s ‘The Blue Album,’ A Garage Rock Classic, on Its 20th Anniversary
May 10, 2014
Seven days after Flight 370 disappeared, the families of those on board are stuck in an undertow of uncertainty.The Flight 370 Paradox: How Do You Mourn a Missing Person?
March 15, 2014
Given the frustration in the international community, Israel must reverse an undertow of isolation.Full Video and Transcript of Obama's Speech in Israel
March 21, 2013
He was almost within her reach, when the undertow swept him back.The Works of Whittier, Volume V (of VII)
John Greenleaf Whittier
So swift was the undertow that Powder River was dragged from beneath its rider.The Fighting Edge
William MacLeod Raine
You will be flung on the holme by that undertow on the lee side.Viking Boys
Jessie Margaret Edmondston Saxby
The undertow writhed about their legs, jerked at them wrathfully.Heart of the Blue Ridge
He got ashore after havin' been knocked down and dragged in four times by the undertow.On the Frontier
- the seaward undercurrent following the breaking of a wave on the beach
- any strong undercurrent flowing in a different direction from the surface current
Word Origin and History for undertow
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
- An underwater current flowing strongly away from shore. Undertows are generally caused by the seaward return of water from waves that have broken against the shore.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.