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 On September 18, Yin Hao posted an elegy to Tylox on WeChat. Washington Post, "China has pain pill addicts too, but no one’s counting them," 31 Dec. 2019 Still, his elegy is not for liberal democracy itself but for the belief in inevitability—a belief commonly held by highly informed people for a long time. William Hogeland, The New Republic, "History Won’t Save Us," 25 Mar. 2020 The potential for beauty in anguish, meanwhile, was the takeaway of the Largo, as the orchestra settled into a kind of stiff elegy and warmed to the white-hot temperature of a munitions foundry. Zachary Lewis, cleveland, "Cleveland Orchestra proves its versatility on night of Prokofiev, Bridge, and Dukas," 31 Jan. 2020 Write the necessary elegies, the songs of temporary fury. Susan Barba, New York Times, "Poem: Practice," 11 Jan. 2020 This tribute to the living was also an elegy, a lament for the dead. CBS News, "A return to Auschwitz, 75 years after liberation," 16 Feb. 2020 The Invite is a humor and light-verse contest, and so the Empress is not looking for flowery elegies. Washington Post, "Style Invitational Week 1365: Dead Letters, our obit poem contest," 2 Jan. 2020 This elegy by Montse Reyes for San Jose’s Lowrider magazine, which ceased print publication in December, is compelling and wonderful. Soleil Ho, SFChronicle.com, "The most despair-inducing Bay Area dishes of 2019," 13 Jan. 2020 Freaknik is an ode to a unique city, and an elegy for one of the greatest music festivals that ever existed. Laura Jane Standley, The Atlantic, "The 50 Best Podcasts of 2019," 27 Dec. 2019

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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Time Traveler for elegy

Time Traveler

The first known use of elegy was in 1501

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Statistics for elegy

Last Updated

14 May 2020

Cite this Entry

“Elegy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/elegy. Accessed 28 May. 2020.

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More Definitions for elegy


How to pronounce elegy (audio)

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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