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background (n.)

"the ground or situation to the rear of what is in front or most engaging of the attention," 1670s, from back (adj.) + ground (n.); original sense was theatrical, later applied to painting ("part of a picture representing what is furthest from the spectator"), 1752. Figurative sense is first attested 1854.

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Definitions of background from WordNet
1
background (n.)
a person's social heritage: previous experience or training;
he is a lawyer with a sports background
background (n.)
information that is essential to understanding a situation or problem;
the embassy filled him in on the background of the incident
Synonyms: background knowledge
background (n.)
extraneous signals that can be confused with the phenomenon to be observed or measured;
they got a bad connection and could hardly hear one another over the background signals
Synonyms: background signal
background (n.)
relatively unimportant or inconspicuous accompanying situation;
when the rain came he could hear the sound of thunder in the background
background (n.)
the state of the environment in which a situation exists;
Synonyms: setting / scope
background (n.)
(computer science) the area of the screen in graphical user interfaces against which icons and windows appear;
Synonyms: desktop / screen background
background (n.)
scenery hung at back of stage;
Synonyms: backdrop / backcloth
background (n.)
the part of a scene (or picture) that lies behind objects in the foreground;
he posed her against a background of rolling hills
Synonyms: ground
2
background (v.)
understate the importance or quality of;
Synonyms: play down / downplay
From wordnet.princeton.edu