1. a natural stream of water of fairly large size flowing in a definite course or channel or series of diverging and converging channels.
  2. a similar stream of something other than water: a river of lava; a river of ice.
  3. any abundant stream or copious flow; outpouring: rivers of tears; rivers of words.
  4. (initial capital letter) Astronomy. the constellation Eridanus.
  5. Printing. a vertical channel of white space resulting from the alignment in several lines of spaces between words.
  1. sell down the river, to betray; desert; mislead: to sell one's friends down the river.
  2. up the river, Slang.
    1. to prison: to be sent up the river for a bank robbery.
    2. in prison: Thirty years up the river had made him a stranger to society.

Origin of river

1250–1300; Middle English < Old French rivere, riviere < Vulgar Latin *rīpāria, noun use of feminine of Latin rīpārius riparian
Related formsriv·er·less, adjectiveriv·er·like, adjective
Can be confusedbrook creek river stream
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

Examples from the Web for up-river

Historical Examples of up-river

  • He was interrupted in his bitterness by a shout from up-river.

    Murder Point

    Coningsby Dawson

  • The up-river people flocked in at certain seasons by the hundred.

  • I proceeded at once to talk with Colonel Shepard about the up-river trip.

    Down South

    Oliver Optic

  • They had taken the up-river road, towards the hacienda de Vargas.

    The War Trail

    Mayne Reid

  • Now their bows were no longer pointing out of the cove, but up-river.

    Jack Harvey's Adventures

    Ruel Perley Smith

British Dictionary definitions for up-river


    1. a large natural stream of fresh water flowing along a definite course, usually into the sea, being fed by tributary streams
    2. (as modifier)river traffic; a river basin
    3. (in combination)riverside; riverbed Related adjectives: fluvial, potamic
  1. any abundant stream or flowa river of blood
  2. sell down the river informal to deceive or betray
  3. the river poker slang the fifth and final community card to be dealt in a round of Texas hold 'em
Derived Formsriverless, adjective

Word Origin for river

C13: from Old French riviere, from Latin rīpārius of a river bank, from rīpa bank
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 up-river

1774, from up + river.



early 13c., from Anglo-French rivere, Old French riviere "river, riverside, river bank" (12c.), from Vulgar Latin *riparia "riverbank, seashore, river" (cf. Spanish ribera, Italian riviera), noun use of fem. of Latin riparius "of a riverbank" (see riparian). Generalized sense of "a copious flow" of anything is from late 14c. The Old English word was ea "river," cognate with Gothic ahwa, Latin aqua (see aqua-). Romanic cognate words tend to retain the sense "river bank" as the main one, or else the secondary Latin sense "coast of the sea" (cf. Riviera).

U.S. slang phrase up the river "in prison" (1891) is originally in reference to Sing Sing prison, which was literally "up the (Hudson) river" from New York City. Phrase down the river "done for, finished" perhaps echoes sense in sell down the river (1851), originally of troublesome slaves, to sell from the Upper South to the harsher cotton plantations of the Deep South.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

up-river in Science


  1. A wide, natural stream of fresh water that flows into an ocean or other large body of water and is usually fed by smaller streams, called tributaries, that enter it along its course. A river and its tributaries form a drainage basin, or watershed, that collects the runoff throughout the region and channels it along with erosional sediments toward the river. The sediments are typically deposited most heavily along the river's lower course, forming floodplains along its banks and a delta at its mouth.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary Copyright © 2011. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

Idioms and Phrases with up-river


see sell down the river; up the river.

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