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[waw-ter-shed, wot-er-] /ˈwɔ tərˌʃɛd, ˈwɒt ər-/
Chiefly British. the ridge or crest line dividing two drainage areas; water parting; divide.
the region or area drained by a river, stream, etc.; drainage area.
Architecture, wash (def 44).
an important point of division or transition between two phases, conditions, etc.:
The treaty to ban war in space may prove to be one of history's great watersheds.
constituting a watershed:
a watershed area; a watershed case.
Origin of watershed
1795-1805; water + shed2 Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for watershed
  • The vaccinal eradication of smallpox was a watershed achievement.
  • Human population density in the watershed is high, yet elephant and buffalo populations have not dropped.
  • The crisis that engulfed first the financial industry and then entire economies is a watershed event.
  • You will discover how rainwater travels through a watershed and how pollutants can get into groundwater.
  • Today marks the anniversary of a watershed moment in human history.
  • This is a watershed moment.
  • It turns out that if the watershed around the canal is well forested, this evens out the water supply throughout the year.
  • Population pressure is becoming more intense, forcing farmers onto steeper lands in the upper watershed forests of this ecoregion.
  • The invention of complex numbers was a watershed in mathematics.
  • He is evidently at a sort of watershed, looking before and after-but especially after-at his own work.
British Dictionary definitions for watershed


the dividing line between two adjacent river systems, such as a ridge
an important period or factor that serves as a dividing line
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for watershed

"line separating waters flowing into different rivers," 1803, from water (n.1) + shed "ridge of high ground between two valleys or lower ground, a divide" in the topographical sense, perhaps from shed (v.) in its extended noun sense of "the part of the hair of the head" (14c.). A loan-translation of German Wasser-scheide. Figurative sense is attested from 1878. Meaning "ground of a river system" is from 1878.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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watershed in Medicine

watershed wa·ter·shed (wô'tər-shěd')

  1. A ridge between two areas that directs drainage to either side.

  2. The area of marginal blood flow at the extreme periphery of a vascular bed.

  3. Ridges of the lumbar vetebrae and the pelvic brim formed in the abdominal cavity, which determine the direction in which a free effusion will gravitate when the body is supine.

The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary
Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.
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watershed in Science
  1. A continuous ridge of high ground forming a divide between two different drainage basins or river systems.

  2. The region enclosed by such a divide and draining into a river, river system, or other body of water.

The American Heritage® Science Dictionary
Copyright © 2002. Published by Houghton Mifflin. All rights reserved.
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watershed in Culture

watershed definition

A ridge of high land dividing two areas that are drained by different river systems. On one side of a watershed, rivers and streams flow in one direction; on the other side they flow in another direction. Also, the area drained by a water system.

Note: By extension, a “watershed” is a critical point that serves as a dividing line: “The parties reached a watershed in the contract negotiations.”
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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