el·e·gy | \ˈe-lə-jē \
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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Synonyms for elegy


dirge, lament, requiem

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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 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 Hear a chamber collective perform rollicking Brahms paired with Anna Clyne’s calmly devastating elegy for her mother, and then an all-Vivaldi program, in this summer’s free series. The New Yorker, "In Central Park, Naumburg Orchestral Concerts Are a Gift to the City," 13 July 2018 But for the most part, Chris the Swiss is a fascinating, moving elegy for doomed youth. Stephen Dalton, The Hollywood Reporter, "'Chris the Swiss': Film Review | Cannes 2018," 22 May 2018 John Coltrane’s potent elegy for the four girls killed in the infamous 1966 KKK bombing of a Baptist church in Birmingham. Jesse Hamlin, San Francisco Chronicle, "David Coulter brings sound of saw to Kronos Festival," 3 Apr. 2018 Memoir, elegy, folklore, ethnography, history, beat narrative? Brett Martin, Outside Online, "Katie Lee, Our Lady of Glen Canyon," 24 May 2018 The oil in the pan smoked like bad days in the Syrian desert— when a moon stayed all day— when morning was a purple elegy for the last friend seen— when the fog of the riverbank rose like a holy ghost. Peter Balakian, The New Yorker, "Eggplant," 19 May 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

Statistics for elegy

Last Updated

2 Oct 2018

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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

: 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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a state of commotion or excitement

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