Some years ago I was watching a quiz program that included a question about what US state was landlocked. The correct response among some choices was Missouri.
I was sure that none of the choices were correct, as one may navigate from various parts of Missouri to any ocean in the world.
I contacted the production staff of this program for clarification. In response I was assured that Missouri was landlocked, and, among other validations I received:

Cambridge Dictionaries Online defines "landlocked" as: "having no seacoast"
The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines it as: "almost or entirely surrounded by land: having no seaport"

I was also assured that the question and answer had been properly researched and independently examined .
I am certain that one could navigate from St. Louis, MO, to the Tower Bridge in London in a sizable boat. I would feel foolish calling St. Louis "landlocked".

Merriam-Webster offers this:

1: enclosed or nearly enclosed by land

a landlocked country

2: confined to freshwater by some barrier

landlocked salmon

3: living or located away from the ocean

a landlocked sailor   

Merriam-Webster online

The Port of South Louisiana, located above New Orleans on the Mississippi River is huge Wikipedia. It is among the busiest ports in the world. I do not think I want to refer to it as "landlocked".
I have been unable to form a proper definition of "landlocked" by my own means.
Is there a useful definition?

Additional information
It may be significant that it was a UK quiz show that precipitated this question. I had not thought it important, but, as there is some difference in British and American dictionaries, it may be. In addition, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania court opinion uses the term "landlocked" without any context of water at all. There may be some variance in US usage from the rest of the world.

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    What's wrong with the definition they provided? "Having no sea coast" is the generally accepted definition, being adjacent to a river doesn't mean a place is not landlocked. – RaceYouAnytime Nov 8 '17 at 23:18
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    Navigating the Mississippi is not the same as navigating a sea or ocean. Landlocked means being surounded by land with no part of the state (or country) bordering on a sea or ocean. – AmE speaker Nov 8 '17 at 23:24
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    If having access to rivers meant that a place was not landlocked, the word would be of little use, because every country on earth and every state in the U.S. has either a river or a sea coast. In fact, every state in the U.S. has access to a river of some kind, though not necessarily one capable of carrying a sea vessel. My point is that it's best not to try to make the definition fit with how the words sound, and instead note its generally accepted meaning in wide use and as denoted by dictionaries. – RaceYouAnytime Nov 8 '17 at 23:36
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    @J.Taylor So, you are asserting that "landlocked" depends on the political status of the territory in question. That frankly doesn't seem to be supported by any sources. – Mark Beadles Nov 9 '17 at 0:34
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    @J.Taylor dictionaries are most interested in getting the shortest definition that matches what you think, and that tends to lead them to leave out nuances like what a thing is not. Those you are supposed to infer. That is, they tell you and give you an example of when a word usage is correct, but they don't do that for when it is not correct. You've asked here and we're telling you what is not correct. Wait, we're also telling you what is correct. Missouri is landlocked. – Mitch Nov 9 '17 at 18:23

The OED first definition for landlocked is

a. Shut in or enclosed by land; almost entirely surrounded by land, as a harbour, etc. Also transf. of fish: Living in land-locked waters so as to be shut off from the sea.

An example use from the OED:

1840 R. H. Dana Two Years before Mast xiv. 36 Decidedly the best harbour on the coast, being completely land-locked

For habour it includes

  1. a. A place of shelter for ships; spec. where they may lie close to and sheltered by the shore or by works extended from it; a haven, a port.

Houston, Texas is, or has, a landlocked port. It does not lie on the ocean.

To reach the Port of Houston’s Turning Basin, a ship must travel 50 miles along a narrow and twisting channel that passes through Galveston Bay, the San Jacinto River, and Buffalo Bayou. Despite this improbable location, Houston has the world’s largest landlocked port (emphasis mine).

From The Port of Houston.

And from Port Technology there's

"Simulators Train Pilots for Largest Landlocked Port"

Members of the Houston Pilots recently participated in two custom-built simulation courses vital to their pilotage duties in the Houston Ship Channel and the Port of Houston, the largest landlocked port in America.

Regarding the usage that is "without any context of water at all," the OED provides its second definition of landlocked:

b. Hemmed in, limited, or hindered from movement by surrounding land.

The easiest recorded usage in the OED is from 1770, before the American colonies declared independence from Britain.

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    If Houston is the largest landlocked port in the US, then, the Port of South Louisiana is NOT landlocked, as it is larger..Then, what does landlocked mean? – J. Taylor Nov 9 '17 at 0:18
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    Landlocked, like any other word, derives its meaning from how people use it. You have looked the word up; I have looked the word up. If you're asking why the Port of South Louisiana is not considered landlocked while that of Houston is, I dunno. Maybe you can call the PSL and ask. I'm no port authority. – AmE speaker Nov 9 '17 at 1:01
  • @ Clare... I'm hoping to find a reason to accept your answer.. My instincts tell me the term is not uniformly used as no rational definition is really available.. Is Philadelphia landlocked? – J. Taylor Nov 9 '17 at 1:16
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    @J.Taylor Looking for “rational definitions” is precisely the primrose path Clare is warming you against. A tree is a tree is a tree. It has so many branches, so many twigs, so many leaves, is so tall, so wide, such and such a color, etc. Asking why it has X leaves instead of Y leaves, or what its rationale is for having precisely N branches, and no more or less... these are non-productive questions. The best you can do with trees or words is describe them. Not “explain” them. The dictionary describes how “landlocked” is actually used. Missouri is landlocked. That’s all. – Dan Bron Nov 9 '17 at 1:28
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    Getting into an argument about whether Houston or South Louisiana has the worlds biggest landlocked port seems silly at this stage. One could define "biggest" in various different ways, from geographical size to amount of traffic and lots of other things in between. Whichever is the biggest, it doesn't change the definition of "landlocked" at all. – Max Williams Nov 10 '17 at 11:24

The significance of "landlocked" is that someone in a "landlocked" country or state cannot access the "high seas" without crossing another country/state. This is a very important consideration for trade, as landlocked countries are at the mercy of their neighbors and can be subjected to larcenous tariffs if they lack the political power to prevent it.

(With regard to, eg, Houston vs the Port of South Louisiana it's more a matter of opinion.)

  • ...do you think it correct to describe part of a country (that is not landlocked) as landlocked? I accept that countries can be landlocked by lack of a sea outlet, but cannot make myself think part of such a country not landlocked can be landlocked. – J. Taylor Nov 9 '17 at 21:01
  • @J.Taylor - It's not uncommon to refer to a region as "landlocked", even if it's not separated from the sea by a political boundary, but just by distance (or perhaps a mountain range). However, there are no "hard" criteria for doing this -- it's a matter of opinion/judgment. – Hot Licks Nov 9 '17 at 21:41
  • I agree. That is why the question, as several dictionaries do not agree. I am gravitating toward the notion that the term landlocked may be used more freely in the US than elsewhere. – J. Taylor Nov 9 '17 at 22:02
  • @J.Taylor Usage in the UK shows that it can be used to describe regions and counties: "[West Midlands] is the only landlocked region in England..." as described by the UK Office of National Statistics. A Google search shows that people use "landlocked" to describe regions of the UK as 'landlocked' even though the nation itself obviously isn't. – Mark Beadles Nov 10 '17 at 14:03
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    @Mark Beadles.....curious The West Midlands is the only Region of England that is landlocked, but the site cited does not say why..... It should....by this reckoning, The Greater London Region is NOT landlocked, but, it sits far from the sea. Would that be because The West Midlands has no commercial navigation, while London has The Thames? Or, is Greater London not landlocked because of the slight salinity in Thames water there? (Even though The Thames is classed fresh water there). Thank you for this reference. It helps. – J. Taylor Nov 10 '17 at 16:57

The earliest known documented uses make evident what continues to be the common meaning of 'landlocked'. Aside from later and transferred senses, 'landlocked' does not denote 'locked in' by land, which is how you've chosen to interpret it latterly; rather 'landlocked' denotes 'locked away from' dangers by features of the land.

For example, OED's first attestation of use from The Observations of Sir Richard Hawkins Knight (published 1622, an account of a voyage said to have been made in 1593):

In the lesser of these Ilands, is a Cave for a small Ship to ride in, Land-lockt, and shee may moore her selfe to the trees of either side....

A slightly earlier publication, A Plaine Description of the Barmudas, now called Sommer Ilands (published 1613), makes the original sense clear:

...there are many good harbours in it, but we could find but one especiall place to goe in, or rather to goe out from it, which was not altogether free from some Danger...where you may safely lie Land-locked, from the daunger of all Winds and Weathers, and moore to the Trees.

From that sense of 'locked away from', as opposed to 'locked in', the sense later (in 1868) transferred to fish 'shut away from' the sea by land; a century earlier than that transferred sense, but later than the original sense (by almost two centuries if the earliest OED attestation from 1770 is indicative), the sense of "[h]emmed in, limited, or hindered from movement by surrounding land" appeared, perhaps as the result of a misunderstanding of the original sense, but more likely as the result of a conscious or unconscious recognition of the semantic utility of the word in conveying meaning other than that conveyed by earlier uses.

Contemporary uses, and the corresponding lexical definitions, reflect both the earlier and later senses, as well as the transferred sense.

  • I find your answer reasonable. My concern is that "[h]emmed in, limited, or hindered from movement by surrounding land" is not a primary definition allowed by the OED currently, but does seem in use. – J. Taylor Nov 9 '17 at 20:55

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