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 At times, Divorcing reads like a second-wave feminist chronicle of domestic dissatisfaction, at times like a high modernist elegy for a Europe that no longer exists. Becca Rothfeld, The New Republic, "The Fiercely Despairing Fiction of Susan Taubes," 16 Oct. 2020 That is how a comedy premised on a mistranslation of football can operate, at its edges, as an elegy. Megan Garber, The Atlantic, "The New Comedy of American Decline," 3 Dec. 2020 Her book, published in 2008, is a masterful hybrid of genres: a case study of Louisiana’s matchless food culture, a memoir of her near-decade living in New Orleans and an elegy for what Hurricane Katrina destroyed in 2005. Bill Addison, Los Angeles Times, "Turkey bone gumbo is the answer for Thanksgiving leftovers (or the feast itself)," 19 Nov. 2020 All of this might seem a little precious if not for the frequent note of elegy in Kooser’s poems, an acknowledgement of life’s somber realities. Danny Heitman, The Christian Science Monitor, "Poet Ted Kooser’s ‘Red Stilts’: Beauty in small moments," 3 Nov. 2020 The reader’s journey begins in the Northeast and Midwest with a translation of an Anishinaabeg dream song, an elegy written in 1678 by one of Harvard’s first Indigenous students, and a variety of poems from the 1800s. Elizabeth Lund, The Christian Science Monitor, "Native American poetry anthology vibrates with powerful voices," 16 Sep. 2020 An elegy is a mournful poem expressing regret for something lost. Ann Levin, Star Tribune, "Review: Ayad Akhtar's `fever dream' of a fallen America," 14 Sep. 2020 To help, Greg Garvey, a professor of game design and development at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, has created an online, interactive elegy to the victims. Susan Dunne, courant.com, "Quinnipiac professor creates interactive online elegy to the victims of Sept. 11," 10 Sep. 2020 This book is so many different things in one: a hymn to friendship, an elegy, and a thrilling, dynamic political stand. TheWeek, "Ilya Kaminsky recommends 6 works of poetry from 2020," 31 Aug. 2020

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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Learn More about elegy

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Cite this Entry

“Elegy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/elegy. Accessed 6 Mar. 2021.

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More Definitions for elegy



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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