back·​wa·​ter | \ ˈbak-ˌwȯ-tər How to pronounce backwater (audio) , -ˌwä- \

Definition of backwater

1a : water backed up in its course by an obstruction, an opposing current, or the tide
b : a body of water (such as an inlet or tributary) that is out of the main current of a larger body
2a : an isolated or backward place or condition
b : an unpopular or unimportant field (as of study or business)

Keep scrolling for more

Examples of backwater in a Sentence

The once sleepy backwater is now a thriving city. a distant backwater that didn't even have electricity at that time
Recent Examples on the Web The goal is to create more natural habitat in and around the lake, which is a backwater of the Mississippi River. Shannon Prather, Star Tribune, "Ramsey County says yes to man-made islands in Pigs Eye Lake," 16 Feb. 2021 When Sonia Navas-Martin began researching coronaviruses at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in 1999, the field was a virological backwater. Alexander Zaitchik, The New Republic, "The Forever Disease: How Covid-19 Became a Chronic Condition," 2 Feb. 2021 Over the next three years, Iran emerged from a digital backwater into one of the most prolific cyber armies in the world. New York Times, "How the United States Lost to Hackers," 4 Feb. 2021 Under Gensler, the CFTC, which was long considered a backwater, became a major Wall Street regulator. Benjamin Bain,, "From Goldman to SEC: Gensler’s Next Stop Worries Wall Street," 14 Jan. 2021 But while the location is so close to all of these destinations, the block itself is still somewhat of a backwater. Diana Budds, Curbed, "First Look: Ace Hotel Brooklyn Is Opening this Spring," 12 Jan. 2021 Whether Ankara deepens ties with its NATO allies or an economic backwater like Russia is up to Mr. Erdogan. The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Choice," 16 Dec. 2020 But the idea of Wilmington as a drab backwater will come as a shock to garden lovers, who know the city and its surrounding countryside as home to one of the richest assortments of historic gardens and horticultural attractions in the United States. Washington Post, "Biden put Wilmington on the map — but for garden lovers, it was already a destination," 28 Dec. 2020 With a forward-racing narrative that takes Lynn from a backwater to the Grand Ole Opry without lingering on life’s roadblocks, Coal Miner’s Daughter has a myth-like quality. Cody Delistraty, WSJ, "Kate Mara’s Obsession: Coal Miner’s Daughter," 16 Dec. 2020

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

See More

First Known Use of backwater

1629, in the meaning defined at sense 1a

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about backwater

Time Traveler for backwater

Time Traveler

The first known use of backwater was in 1629

See more words from the same year

Statistics for backwater

Last Updated

7 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Backwater.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 8 Mar. 2021.

Style: MLA
MLA Chicago APA Merriam-Webster

Keep scrolling for more

More Definitions for backwater



English Language Learners Definition of backwater

: a part of a river where the water moves slowly because it is away from the main part of the river
: a quiet place (such as a town or village) where there is little activity, excitement, progress, etc.

More from Merriam-Webster on backwater

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for backwater

Comments on backwater

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


Test Your Vocabulary

Who Knew?

How Strong Is Your Vocabulary?

Test your vocabulary with our 10-question quiz!

Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!