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background: n.,adj.,vt. To do a task `in background' is to do
   it whenever foreground matters are not claiming your undivided
   attention, and `to background' something means to relegate it to
   a lower priority.  "For now, we'll just print a list of nodes and
   links; I'm working on the graph-printing problem in background."
   Note that this implies ongoing activity but at a reduced level or
   in spare time, in contrast to mainstream `back burner' (which
   connotes benign neglect until some future resumption of activity).
   Some people prefer to use the term for processing that they have
   queued up for their unconscious minds (a tack that one can often
   fruitfully take upon encountering an obstacle in creative work).
   Compare amp off, slopsucker.

Technically, a task running in background is detached from the terminal where it was started (and often running at a lower priority); oppose foreground. Nowadays this term is primarily associated with UNIX, but it appears to have been first used in this sense on OS/360.