ek·​phra·​sis | \ ˈek-frə-səs How to pronounce ekphrasis (audio) \
variants: or less commonly
plural ekphrases also ecphrases\ ˈek-​frə-​ˌsēz How to pronounce ekphrasis (audio) \

Definition of ekphrasis

: a literary description of or commentary on a visual work of art

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Although "ekphrasis" (also spelled "ecphrasis") is a relatively new entry in our dictionary, the practice of using words to comment on a piece of visual art is an ancient one. One of the earliest and most commonly cited forms of ekphrasis occurs in The Iliad, when Homer provides a long and discursive account of the elaborate scenes embossed on the shield of Achilles. It should be no surprise, then, that the term ekphrasis derives from Greek, where it literally means "description" and was formed by combining the prefix ex- ("out") with the verb "phrazein" ("to point out or explain"). "Ekphrasis" first appeared in English in the early 18th century.

Examples of ekphrasis in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Hongo’s work embodies ekphrasis — his capacious mind roams across art forms. Washington Post, 18 Mar. 2022 On Thursday, May 17, from 6:30 to 8 p.m., a workshop on ekphrasis poetry will teach how artwork can inspire a poem. Carole Goldberg, courant.com, 2 May 2018 The performance was a kind of call and response, or ekphrasis, with lyrics and chords inspired by Lethem's prose. Agatha French, latimes.com, 5 Feb. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ekphrasis.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of ekphrasis

1715, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for ekphrasis

borrowed from New Latin ecphrasis, borrowed from Greek ékphrasis "description," from ekphrad-, stem of ekphrázein "to tell over, recount, describe" (from ek- ec- + phrázein "to point out, show, tell, explain," of uncertain origin) + -sis -sis

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The first known use of ekphrasis was in 1715

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Last Updated

23 Mar 2022

Cite this Entry

“Ekphrasis.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ekphrasis. Accessed 18 May. 2022.

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