acan·​thus ə-ˈkan(t)-thəs How to pronounce acanthus (audio)
plural acanthus
: any of a genus (Acanthus of the family Acanthaceae, the acanthus family) of prickly perennial herbs chiefly of the Mediterranean region
: an ornamentation (as in a Corinthian capital) representing or suggesting the leaves of the acanthus

Illustration of acanthus

Illustration of acanthus
  • acanthus 2

Examples of acanthus in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Visitors to the British galleries can climb the stairs, with their intricate carvings of acanthus foliage, oak leaves and other vegetation, to inspect a new mezzanine area. Peter Saenger, WSJ, 23 Jan. 2020 Hillsides of unruly acanthus — nature's template for Corinthian columns — precede the Domus Augustana. Washington Post, 12 July 2019 Instead of angels and saints, there were soldiers beheading one another; instead of Madonnas and Christs, there were pregnant women sprouting from acanthus buds. Junot Díaz, The New Yorker, 17 Apr. 2018 The acanthus leaves on the column have remained consistent over millennia and, over time, have come to represent more than just a sturdy plant. Phil Edwards, Vox, 28 Mar. 2018 The bezels on each center stone are composed of acanthus leaves sculpted in gold. Stellene Volandes, Town & Country, 6 Mar. 2018 The native black walnut, darkened with lamp black and oiled with linseed oil, was carved with life-like birds, flowers and acanthus leaves that can be seen on so much of their work. Janelle Gelfand,, 5 May 2017 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'acanthus.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


borrowed from Latin, borrowed from Greek ákanthos, a plant of the genus Acanthus (as A. mollis or A. spinosus), masculine derivative of ákanthă "thorn, prickle, thorny plant, spine (of a fish), backbone," probably of pre-Greek substratal origin

First Known Use

1551, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of acanthus was in 1551

Dictionary Entries Near acanthus

Cite this Entry

“Acanthus.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Dec. 2023.

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