the criminal element of human society.
the imagined abode of departed souls or spirits; Hades.
a region below the surface, as of the earth or a body of water.
the opposite side of the earth; the antipodes.
Archaic. the earth.

1600–10; under- + world

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Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2014.
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World English Dictionary
underworld (ˈʌndəˌwɜːld)
1.  a.  criminals and their associates considered collectively
 b.  (as modifier): underworld connections
2.  the regions below the earth's surface regarded as the abode of the dead; Hades
Related: chthonian, chthonic

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

1608, "the lower world, Hades," also "the earth," as distinguished from heaven (1609). Cf. Ger. unterwelt, Du. onderwereld, Dan. underverden. Meaning "lower level of society" is first recorded 1890; "criminals and organized crime collectively" is attested from 1900.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Example sentences
Even as the hacking underworld has splintered, new threats are emerging.
It is an engine of growth in the underworld of the city's informal economy, a
  vast sector with an astonishing volume of supply.
Furthermore, he thought he knew where to look for them: in the weird underworld
  of quantum mechanics.
Researchers have discovered an underworld of genetic exchange among bacteria,
  one more vast than previously imagined.
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