Anatomy. the spinal column; spine.
strength of character; resolution.
something resembling a backbone in appearance, position, or function.
Bookbinding. a back or bound edge of a book; spine.
Nautical. a rope running along the middle of an awning, as a reinforcement and as an object to which a supporting bridle or crowfoot may be attached.
Naval Architecture. the central fore-and-aft assembly of the keel and keelson, giving longitudinal strength to the bottom of a vessel.

1250–1300; Middle English bacbon. See back1, bone1

backboned, adjective
backboneless, adjective

2. firmness, decision, fortitude. Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
backbone (ˈbækˌbəʊn)
1.  a nontechnical name for spinal column
2.  something that resembles the spinal column in function, position, or appearance
3.  strength of character; courage
4.  the main or central mountain range of a country or region
5.  nautical the main longitudinal members of a vessel, giving structural strength
6.  computing (in computer networks) a large-capacity, high-speed central section by which other network segments are connected

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009
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Word Origin & History

"spine," c.1300, from back (n.) + bone. Fig. sense of "strength of character" is attested from 1843.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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American Heritage
Medical Dictionary

backbone back·bone (bāk'bōn')
See spinal column.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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American Heritage
Science Dictionary
backbone   (bāk'bōn')  Pronunciation Key 
See vertebral column.
The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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American Heritage
Cultural Dictionary

backbone definition

The primary line(s) that connects the slower, shorter cable portions of a communications network together. (See last mile.) In larger networks, such as the Internet, a backbone consists of high-capacity, high-speed lines that can extend over great distances.

The American Heritage® New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition
Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
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Computing Dictionary

backbone definition

The top level in a hierarchical network. Stub networks and transit networks which connect to the same backbone are guaranteed to be interconnected.
See also: Internet backbone.
The Free On-line Dictionary of Computing, © Denis Howe 2010
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Example sentences
Along with hardy evergreen conifers, tough deciduous trees and shrubs form the
  garden's backbone.
Treat them as the backbone of a border combined with perennials, annuals, and
Cut off head and tail and remove fish from backbone.
Tuna fishing and tuna processing plants are the backbone of the private sector,
  with canned tuna the primary export.
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