el·​e·​gy | \ ˈe-lə-jē How to pronounce elegy (audio) \
plural elegies

Definition of elegy

1 : a poem in elegiac couplets
2a : a song or poem expressing sorrow or lamentation especially for one who is dead
b : something (such as a speech) resembling such a song or poem
3a : a pensive or reflective poem that is usually nostalgic or melancholy
b : a short pensive musical composition

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Elegy vs. Eulogy

Both elegy and eulogy may be used about writing or speech in remembrance of a person who has passed away, and this semantic overlap creates the potential for confusion. Elegy (which may be traced to the Greek word elegos, “song of mourning”) commonly refers to a song or poem lamenting one who is dead; the word may also refer somewhat figuratively to a nostalgic poem, or to a kind of musical composition. While eulogy is also commonly found referring to words about the deceased, its basic meaning, both in English and in the Greek language from which it was borrowed, is “praise.” Formed from the Greek roots eu “good” and logos “speech,” a eulogy is an encomium given for one who is either living or dead. If you are praising your partner’s unsurpassed beauty or commending the virtues of the deceased at a funeral, you are delivering a eulogy; if you are composing a lamenting reminiscence about a person who has long since passed, you are writing an elegy.

Examples of elegy in a Sentence

“O Captain! My Captain!” is Walt Whitman's elegy on the death of President Lincoln

Recent Examples on the Web

But the film, like the book — which disappointingly has been out of print despite its gold-standard status as documentation of Houston music across more than half of the 20th century — is meant to be a celebration rather than an elegy. Andrew Dansby, Houston Chronicle, "Houston blues documentary rescheduled for this weekend," 21 June 2019 Today, music continues to suffuse every phase of our lives, from lullaby to elegy. Quanta Magazine, "The Beasts That Keep the Beat," 22 Mar. 2016 The Essential Poems reveals that Harrison had been writing his own elegy for years. Nick Ripatrazone, National Review, "Jim Harrison’s Essential Poetry," 8 June 2019 Perhaps most notably, both feel like elegies for a past in which those men were very comfortable. Alissa Wilkinson, Vox, "Clint Eastwood’s new movie The Mule is exasperatingly flat," 14 Dec. 2018 Part philosophical elegy, part (or mostly) an homage to Shakespeare, in particular Hamlet, Nutshell is easily McEwan's most clever and humorous novel to date. Liz Matthews, Town & Country, "Ian McEwan's 'Nutshell' is a Modern-Day 'Hamlet'," 28 Sep. 2016 But that is rarely what elegies, or poets, aim to provide. Walt Hunter, The Atlantic, "Remembering Donald Hall, a Poet of Love and Loss," 27 June 2018 All this is intensely, if not quite always intentionally, amusing, and yet inevitably the best bits are those dreamy elegies from 1968. D.j. Taylor, WSJ, "‘As Time Goes By’ Review: What It Was Really Like," 28 June 2018 While an elegy focuses on feelings of sadness, a eulogy is all about praise, celebrating the life of the departed and his or her character and achievements. Melissa Mohr, The Christian Science Monitor, "From one word lover to another," 2 Apr. 2018

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

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First Known Use of elegy

1501, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for elegy

Latin elegia poem in elegiac couplets, from Greek elegeia, elegeion, from elegos song of mourning

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Dictionary Entries near elegy







eleme figs

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Last Updated

26 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for elegy

The first known use of elegy was in 1501

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English Language Learners Definition of elegy

literary : a sad poem or song : a poem or song that expresses sorrow for someone who is dead

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More from Merriam-Webster on elegy

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for elegy

Spanish Central: Translation of elegy

Nglish: Translation of elegy for Spanish Speakers

Britannica English: Translation of elegy for Arabic Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about elegy

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to take the place or position of

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