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the ground or parts, as of a scene, situated in the rear (opposed to foreground).
Fine Arts.

the part of a painted or carved surface against which represented objects and forms are perceived or depicted:
a portrait against a purple background.
the part of an image represented as being at maximum distance from the frontal plane.

one’s origin, education, experience, etc., in relation to one’s present character, status, etc.
the social, historical, and other antecedents or causes of an event or condition:
the background of the war.
the complex of physical, cultural, and psychological factors that serves as the environment of an event or experience; the set of conditions against which an occurrence is perceived.
Physics. the totality of effects that tend to obscure a phenomenon under investigation and above which the phenomenon must be detected.
Telecommunications. (in an electronic device for transmitting or receiving signals) the sum of the effects, as noise or random signals, from which a phenomenon must differentiate itself in character or degree in order to be detected.
of, relating to, or serving as a background:
background noise.
to supply a background to:
The passenger’s idle thoughts were backgrounded by the drone of the plane’s engines.
to supply a background of information for:
To background themselves, reporters dug through all available files on the case.
in / into the background, unobtrusive; inconspicuous; out of sight or notice; in or into obscurity:
He kept his dishonest dealings in the background.
Contemporary Examples

Vladimir Putin draws on his background as a master spy, testing and teasing the new regime in Kiev and its backers in Washington.
Putin’s Shadow Shock Troops Roil Ukraine Christopher Dickey February 27, 2014

Women and children can be heard screaming in the background.
Explosive Protest and Police Brutality Videos from Iran The Daily Beast Video June 15, 2009

All of that makes Plouffe, with his background as a Democratic consultant, a very interesting choice.
Uber Hires Ex-Obama Campaign Manager to Help Fight ‘Big Taxi Cartel’ Olivia Nuzzi August 18, 2014

This makes perfect sense given Governor Romney’s background in private equity fund formation.
Why the Right Couldn’t See the Truth November 8, 2012

Missouri Total background checks: 480,953 Population: 6,010,688 background checks per 100,000 residents: 8,002 14.
States With the Most Legal Guns in 2012 December 14, 2012

Historical Examples

Pembroke was in the background, its grey walls overhung with ivy.
A Book of Bryn Mawr Stories Marian T. MacIntosh

He wanted to use the old city as a background for his own newly-acquired glory.
Ancient Man Hendrik Willem van Loon

The background of each picture is likewise perfectly appropriate.
Sir Joshua Reynolds Estelle M. Hurll

He had sat in the background, but he had found both money and energy.
Explorations in Australia John Forrest

It seems to have been willingly kept in the background by the leaders of debate on both sides; but it was there.
A History of American Christianity Leonard Woolsey Bacon

the part of a scene or view furthest from the viewer

an inconspicuous or unobtrusive position (esp in the phrase in the background)
(as modifier): a background influence


the plane or ground in a picture upon which all other planes or forms appear superimposed
the parts of a picture that appear most distant Compare foreground (sense 2), middle-distance (sense 2)

a person’s social class, education, training, or experience

the social, historical, or technical circumstances that lead up to or help to explain something: the background to the French Revolution
(as modifier): background information

a low level of sound, lighting, etc, whose purpose is to be an unobtrusive or appropriate accompaniment to something else, such as a social activity, conversation, or the action of a film
(as modifier): background music

(physics) Also called background radiation. low-intensity radiation as, for example, from small amounts of radioisotopes in soil, air, building materials, etc

unwanted effects, such as noise, occurring in a measuring instrument, electronic device, etc
(as modifier): background interference


1670s, from back (adj.) + ground (n.); original sense was theatrical, later applied to painting. Figurative sense is first attested 1854.

1. A task running in the background (a background task) is detached from the terminal where it was started (and often running at a lower priority); opposite of foreground. This means that the task’s input and output must be from/to files (or other processes).
Nowadays this term is primarily associated with Unix, but it appears to have been first used in this sense on OS/360.
Compare amp off, batch, slopsucker.
2. For a human to do a task “in the background” is to do it whenever foreground matters are not claiming your undivided attention, and “to background” something means to relegate it to a lower priority. “For now, we’ll just print a list of nodes and links; I’m working on the graph-printing problem in the background.” Note that this implies ongoing activity but at a reduced level or in spare time, in contrast to mainstream “back burner” (which connotes benign neglect until some future resumption of activity). Some people prefer to use the term for processing that they have queued up for their unconscious minds (often a fruitful tack to take upon encountering an obstacle in creative work).


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