excelsior

noun
ex·​cel·​si·​or | \ ik-ˈsel-sē-ər How to pronounce excelsior (audio) , -ȯr \

Definition of excelsior

 (Entry 1 of 2)

: fine curled wood shavings used especially for packing fragile items

excelsior

Latin adverb
ex·​cel·​si·​or | \ ik-ˈsel-sē-ər How to pronounce excelsior (audio) , eks-ˈkel-sē-ˌȯr \

Definition of excelsior (Entry 2 of 2)

: higher motto of New York

Onward and Upward With Excelsior

In 1778 the state of New York adopted a coat of arms incorporating the motto “Excelsior,” Latin for “Higher.” Decades later, the motto sparked the imagination of the young Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and in 1842 he used it as the title of an allegorical poem of doomed idealism. The poem begins, “The shades of night were falling fast, / As through an Alpine village passed / A youth, who bore, 'mid snow and ice, / A banner with the strange device, / Excelsior!” and follows the young man as he forges upward on his inscrutable mission, ignoring all warnings, before eventually perishing in the snow. It became so popular that, in its wake, the word was adopted as a brand name by numerous businesses; one manufactured wood shavings for use as packing material, and the term is still used for shavings today. But though Longfellow was an eminent linguist, he, like the founders of New York, failed to reflect that the adjective excelsior was perhaps less appropriate to his purpose than the adverb sursum (“upwards”). But the world hasn’t minded—and certainly not the great comic-book writer Stan Lee, who for decades closed his popular magazine columns and speeches with the heartening exclamation.

Examples of excelsior in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web: Noun Lay the wreath form on a work surface, spread excelsior on top, and secure with hot glue. Lacey Howard, Better Homes & Gardens, 11 Apr. 2022

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

First Known Use of excelsior

Noun

1868, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for excelsior

Noun

trade name, from Latin, higher, comparative of excelsus high, from past participle of excellere

Learn More About excelsior

Time Traveler for excelsior

Time Traveler

The first known use of excelsior was in 1868

See more words from the same year

Dictionary Entries Near excelsior

excelse

excelsior

Excelsior Springs

See More Nearby Entries 

Statistics for excelsior

Last Updated

21 Apr 2022

Cite this Entry

“Excelsior.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/excelsior. Accessed 20 May. 2022.

Style: MLA
MLACheck Mark Icon ChicagoCheck Mark Icon APACheck Mark Icon Merriam-WebsterCheck Mark Icon

WORD OF THE DAY

Test Your Vocabulary

Which Word Does Not Belong?

  • one green toy robot amidst many red toy robots
  • Which of these words does not mean "nonsense"?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Universal Daily Crossword

A daily challenge for crossword fanatics.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!