back·bone | \ ˈbak-ˈbōn , -ˌbōn \

Definition of backbone 

2 : something that resembles a backbone: such as

a : a chief mountain ridge, range, or system

b : the foundation or most substantial or sturdiest part of something

c : the longest chain of atoms or groups of atoms in a usually long molecule (such as a polymer or protein)

d : the primary high-speed hardware and transmission lines of a telecommunications network (such as the Internet)

3 : firm and resolute character

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Other words from backbone

backboned \ˈbak-ˌbōnd \ adjective

Examples of backbone in a Sentence

She is the backbone of the family. He showed some backbone by refusing to compromise his values.

Recent Examples on the Web

The party of civility and decorum will have to show some backbone here. Jay Willis, GQ, "Why Justice Kennedy’s Retirement Is Even Worse Than You Think," 27 June 2018 Across San Diego County, there are some 30,000 hotel and motel workers, many of them low-wage, who form the backbone of the region’s tourism sector, the region’s third largest industry. Lori Weisberg,, "Marriott hotel workers will hit the streets to demand better pay, working conditions," 26 June 2018 After the war, von Tiesenhausen joined von Braun in Huntsville, Ala., where von Tiesenhausen helped form the backbone of the U.S. space program, ultimately aiding in the launch of the first U.S. satellite and the first U.S. astronauts. Matt Campbell, kansascity, "In memoriam through June 9: Three KC fashion and art icons and a beloved chef," 9 June 2018 Most had despaired of finding a liberal with backbone or a conservative with a heart. Larry Tye,, "An open letter to Joe Kennedy III: Here’s how to run for president," 29 May 2018 But for most vertebrates—a group that encompasses all animals with a backbone, such as mammals, fish, birds, reptiles and amphibians—their blood runs red due to the hemoglobin used to transport oxygen. Jason Daley, Smithsonian, "These Lizards Evolved Toxic Green Blood," 17 May 2018 Netflix's The Rain is a drama with the backbone of an anthology. Rebecca Farley,, "The Backstories For Each Character Fighting The Apocalypse In The Rain," 4 May 2018 At the El Rey, his set showed a young writer already in transition, a singer with a strong backbone and star power beginning to test his limits and find new contexts for his talent. August Brown,, "With folk roots and a hip-hop influence, Irish artist Dermot Kennedy is on the verge of breaking out," 25 Mar. 2018 Citigroup’s backbone is the Treasury and Trade Solutions unit, which does back-office work for governments and companies that operate in multiple countries. Christina Rexrode, WSJ, "Citigroup Earnings Lifted by Growing Loans," 13 July 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'backbone.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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First Known Use of backbone

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Statistics for backbone

Last Updated

1 Sep 2018

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for backbone

The first known use of backbone was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for backbone



English Language Learners Definition of backbone

: the row of connected bones that go down the middle of the back and protect the spinal cord

: the most important or strongest part of something

: strength and courage


back·bone | \ ˈbak-ˈbōn \

Kids Definition of backbone

1 : the column of bones in the back enclosing and protecting the spinal cord : spinal column

2 : the strongest part of something He is the backbone of the family.

3 : strength of character


back·bone | \ -ˈbōn, -ˌbōn \

Medical Definition of backbone 

2 : the longest chain of atoms or groups of atoms in a usually long molecule (as a polymer or protein)

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Comments on backbone

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the setting in which something occurs

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