English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

It seems like a kind of house; if it is, I cannot grasp the meaning of watershed.

share|improve this question
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Oxford dictionary online says

shed2 …(of a tree or other plant) allow (leaves or fruit) to fall to the ground…

A watershed sheds water to either side in much the same way an umbrella or raincoat sheds water.

The British National Corpus has

"I seem to have a veritable Serpentine in my locks," said the newcomer, still shedding water and laughing wildly.

Frankenstein unbound. Aldiss, Brian.

share|improve this answer
This is definitely how I view the term. – Robusto Mar 15 '11 at 10:49

The New Oxford American Dictionary says:

Early 19th century: from water + shed in the sense “ridge of high ground”, suggested by German *Wasserscheide¨, literally ‘water-divide’

It says of shed, in the sense “allow to fall to the ground”:

Old English sc(e)ādan [separate out (one selected group), divide,] also [scatter,] of Germanic origin; related to Dutch and German scheiden.

share|improve this answer

It's worth noting that the word watershed can also mean a critical point that marks a division or change of course.

Watershed is also the name given to the period of time in which programmes unsuitable for children can be shown on public television.

share|improve this answer

The word watershed is a compound noun: water + shed.

The simple building, which the OP refers to, is unrelated. A shed is a variant of shade and means a plain structure used for storing things, usually made of wood or metal. Typically at the weekends, a married man might spend hours in the garden or toolshed tinkering away.

The shed in ‘watershed’ instead refers to the verb

1. (transitive, obsolete, UK, dialect) To part or divide.
‘A metal comb shed her golden hair’.
2. (transitive, intransitive) To part with, separate from, leave off;
cast off, let fall, be divested of.
‘You must shed your fear of the unknown before you can proceed.’
‘When we found the snake, it was in the process of shedding its skin.’
3. (transitive, archaic) To pour; to make flow.
‘Did Romeo's hand shed Tybalt's blood?’
4. (transitive) To allow to flow or fall.
‘I didn't shed many tears when he left me.’
‘A tarpaulin sheds water.’

Webster's Third New International Dictionary suggests that watershed is an English translation of German Wasserscheide (also mentioned in F'x answer) and defines the word as

1. water parting
2. a region or area bounded peripherally by a water parting and draining ultimately to a particular watercourse or body of water, the catchment area or drainage basin from which the waters of a stream or stream system are drawn.
3. something (as a sloping contour or member) introduced into a structure primarily to shed or throw off water.
a narrow watershed over a car window

And because sometimes a ‘picture’ speaks louder than words...

enter image description here

share|improve this answer

shed in this case comes from the German "scheiden" which means "to divide", can be seen in the form "entscheiden" - to make a decision, hope this helps

share|improve this answer
Scheiden is clearly a cognate of shed, but I don't see any evidence that shed comes from scheiden. – ScotM May 23 '15 at 19:34
An expression as "comes from" should be avoided. The sense of shed in watershed can be made clearer with the German verb scheiden (to separate, to divide) . Here English shed and German scheiden have common origin, they are related words. The similarity between Wasserscheide and watershed is easy to see. A line where a mountain range causes rainwater to flow in two directions. – rogermue Jun 1 '15 at 10:48

Shed = Fall over to the ground; give away

eg-1: The trees shed their leaves in autumn (season).

eg-2: Women often tend to shed tears when they are emotional.

share|improve this answer
Welcome to ELU. This duplicates the accepted answer. Please ensure new answers add new material. – Andrew Leach May 23 '15 at 20:34

A watershed can also be defined as a geographical area, as in the Mississippi watershed, determined by the boundary of the drainage area of a watercourse or river.

share|improve this answer

No one has cited Etymonline and so I thought to do so:

watershed (n.) "line separating waters flowing into different rivers," 1803,
from water (n.1) + shed in a topographical sense of "ridge of high ground between two valleys or lower ground, a divide,"
perhaps from shed (v.) in its extended noun sense of "the part of the hair of the head" (14c.). [...]

The following helps to understand watershed's 2 different figurative meanings.
Heed their differences, as per Yahoo Answers below:

[Quora:] A "watershed moment" is a point in time that marks an important, often historical change. The pertinent original usage of "watershed" is to describe a ridge of land separating waters that then flow into two different bodies. Much as a "watershed" might mark a change in the course of a river, a "watershed moment" might mark a change in the course of history.

[Yahoo Answers:] A critical point that marks a division or a change of course; a turning point [...]

Used as a metaphor since the late 19th century, this sense of "watershed" has meant a dividing line, often a moment in time marking a momentous transition, as the Reagan presidency might be said, for better or worse, to have marked a "watershed" in American politics. This figurative use of "watershed" to mean "epochal moment" is widely heard in Great Britain.

In the U.S., however, there is a slightly different use of "watershed" in a technical sense to mean "the drainage area (often mountain forests) feeding a river or other water system." This has led to the metaphorical use of "watershed" in America to mean "an experience or event which produces profound effects later on," much as heavy rains in the mountains may lead to floods later on in the valley below. [...]

share|improve this answer

protected by Andrew Leach May 23 '15 at 20:34

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.