undertow

[uhn-der-toh]

noun

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

First recorded in 1810–20; under- + tow1

Synonyms for undertow

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. 2019

Examples from the Web for undertow

Contemporary Examples of undertow

Historical Examples of undertow

  • In the course of a month the secret propaganda was moving with the invisible, sinister, irresistible suction of an undertow.

    The White Morning

    Gertrude Atherton

  • For our theory—which may be entirely wrong—is that the breaking is due to the undertow of previous waves.

    Pipefuls

    Christopher Morley

  • With me it swept to sentiment, and carried me uncontrollably in its undertow.

    The Portal of Dreams

    Charles Neville Buck

  • They were quickly carried out to sea by the undertow, which they fought away from and propelled themselves to the surface.

  • I love the sea with its impenetrable fathoms, its wash and undertow, and rasp of shingle sucked anew.

    The Roadmender

    Michael Fairless



British Dictionary definitions for undertow

undertow

noun

the seaward undercurrent following the breaking of a wave on the beach
any strong undercurrent flowing in a different direction from the surface current
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 undertow
n.

1798, from under + tow (n.).

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

Science definitions for undertow

undertow

[ŭndər-tō′]

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.