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


8 Answers 8


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.

  • This is definitely how I view the term.
    – Robusto
    Commented Mar 15, 2011 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.


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.


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


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

  • 2
    Scheiden is clearly a cognate of shed, but I don't see any evidence that shed comes from scheiden.
    – ScotM
    Commented May 23, 2015 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
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 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.

  • 1
    Welcome to ELU. This duplicates the accepted answer. Please ensure new answers add new material.
    – Andrew Leach
    Commented May 23, 2015 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.


Watershed is a geological term. It is a composite word. The individual meanings of its individual component words will not convey the full meaning of the geological term.

A watershed is a confluence region into which rainfall runoff is shed by the surrounding regions.

Apparently the state of Maine and the US Army Corp of Engineers have designated my home and its acreage as part of a watershed.

There were regions of moments in my life which had been watershed confluence of events that were shed into my life by peripheral people and entities that collectively caused a couple of turning points in my life.

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