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water held or forced back, as by a dam, flood, or tide.
a place or state of stagnant backwardness:
This area of the country is a backwater that continues to resist progress.
an isolated, peaceful place.
a stroke executed by pushing a paddle forward, causing a canoe to move backward.
Contemporary Examples

State of Wonder borrows some plot points; Marina is delayed in a backwater before heading down the river, like Marlow.
Ann Patchett’s ‘State of Wonder’ and Other Twists on Classic Novels Caryn James December 6, 2011

In contrast, says Aftergood, “security has traditionally been a backwater that hires former military personnel and muscle men.”
Intelligence Community Aims to Get Tough on Leaks Eli Lake June 20, 2012

Western Europe—sticking out into the cold North Atlantic, far from the centers of action—had always been a backwater.
Why the West Rules—For Now Ian Morris December 24, 2010

Egypt, once a leader in the Arab world and the Islamic world, has fallen to a being a backwater.
Crossroad for Arab Dictators Bruce Riedel January 14, 2011

To be sure, patriot-Americans are not know-nothing nativists or backwater rubes, nor are post-Americans traitors.
A ‘Black President’ Is of No Value to America Rich Benjamin November 3, 2008

Historical Examples

Yet, with all its miasma, this backwater district has sent many a good man back to the main Road, which we all try to travel.
My Life Josiah Flynt

The sun had set, and the backwater, in deep shadow, was filling with a gentle haze.
Howards End E. M. Forster

He came to the island, and let his boat slide into the backwater.
The Dark Flower John Galsworthy

Then he had seemed to himself in the backwater, out of the throng of existence.
The Arbiter Lady F. E. E. Bell

Wargrave backwater is one of the most noted on the river, and in summer, or early spring, is a fairyland of greenery.
The Thames G. E. Mitton

a body of stagnant water connected to a river
water held or driven back, as by a dam, flood, or tide
an isolated, backward, or intellectually stagnant place or condition
(intransitive) to reverse the direction of a boat, esp to push the oars of a rowing boat

late 14c., “water behind a dam,” from back (adj.) + water (n.). Hence flat water without a current near a flowing river, as in a mill race (1820); figurative use of this for any flat, dull place is from 1899.


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  • Backwoods

    (often used with a singular verb) wooded or partially uncleared and unsettled districts. any remote or isolated area. of or relating to the backwoods. unsophisticated; uncouth. Contemporary Examples He suspected that the driver, who was identified as Cody Alan Legebokoff, was poaching in the backwoods. A Teen Serial Killer in Canada? Christine Pelisek October 22, […]

  • Backwoodsman

    a person living in or coming from the backwoods, or a remote or unsettled area. a person of uncouth manners, rustic behavior or speech, etc. British. a peer who rarely attends the House of Lords. Historical Examples Mr. Howbridge got up from his chair and advanced to meet the backwoodsman with hospitable hand. The Corner […]

  • Backwrap

    an article of clothing, as a dress, that overlaps and fastens in the back.

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