back·​stairs | \ ˈbak-ˌsterz How to pronounce backstairs (audio) \

Definition of backstairs

1 : secret, furtive backstairs political deals
2 : sordid, scandalous backstairs gossip

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Did You Know?

When Roger Boyle, 1st Earl of Orrery, wrote in 1654 about leading someone "down a back-stairs," he wasn’t referring to anything scandalous. He simply meant "down a secondary set of stairs at the back of a house." Just over a decade earlier, however, Boyle’s contemporary, Sir Edward Dering, had used the phrase "going up the back-stairs" in a figurative way to suggest a means of approach that was not entirely honest and upfront. The figurative use likely arose from the simple notion that the stairs at the rear of a building are less visible and thus allow for a certain degree of sneakiness. By 1663, backstairs was also being used adjectivally to describe something done furtively, often with an underhanded or sinister connotation.

Examples of backstairs in a Sentence

an influential Washington lobbyist who has been involved in a number of backstairs deals to limit regulation of financial institutions
Recent Examples on the Web And in North Carolina, a boyish trial lawyer with jury-pleasing charm (John Edwards) knocked off Lauch Faircloth, a GOP senator who played a backstairs role in getting Kenneth Starr appointed as independent counsel. Walter Shapiro, The New Republic, "1998 Was a Seinfeld Election—Not an Impeachment Referendum," 6 June 2019

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

First Known Use of backstairs

1663, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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The first known use of backstairs was in 1663

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Cite this Entry

“Backstairs.” The Dictionary, Merriam-Webster Inc., Accessed 28 January 2020.

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How to pronounce backstairs (audio)

English Language Learners Definition of backstairs

chiefly British, informal : done in a secret and usually improper way

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Rhyming Dictionary: Words that rhyme with backstairs

Comments on backstairs

What made you want to look up backstairs? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).


showing steady, earnest care and effort

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