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1. a large low container that is filled with sand for children to play in

2.  in software and web development, an environment where new products can be tested without affecting the live server or damaging data

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun sandbox has a number of different meanings, including a box holding sand for sprinkling on a document to dry the ink (16th century), and a box containing sand kept in a locomotive to stop the wheels from slipping (mid 19th century). A sandpit was originally a pit from which sand was extracted: in this meaning it dates back to the 15th century. The meaning of a children’s play area, generally called a sandpit in British English and a sandbox in American English, dates from the late 19th century. Both terms are compounds formed from the noun ‘sand’ and the nouns ‘pit’ and ‘box’.


A leading archeologist has described a late 6th century Anglo Saxon burial chamber found in Prittlewell, Essex, as ‘Britain’s equivalent of Tutankhamun’s tomb’. Rather less glamorously, she added that ‘It was essentially a sandpit with stains,’ because the free-draining soil meant that all the tomb’s organic contents had decayed. The finds included gold crosses, buckles and coins, glass and copper vessels and even the remains of a lyre decorated with copper alloy and garnetsSandpit is the British term for what American English calls a sandbox; they are usually associated with children’s play areas rather than ancient burial sites. The ‘play’ aspect led to the second meaning of sandbox given above: an environment in web and software development where products can be tested without causing damage to their surroundings. The term is now being used more generally, referring to any environment where people can experiment.


“Archaeology is the peeping Tom of the sciences. It is the sandbox of men who care not where they are going; they merely want to know where everyone else has been.”
(Jim Bishop)

“Marvel comics took a chance on me in my youth, allowing me to create so many toys in their sandbox.”
(Rob Liefeld)

Related words

seesaw, roundabout, slide

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

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