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hal·​cy·​on ˈhal-sē-ən How to pronounce halcyon (audio)
: characterized by happiness, great success, and prosperity : golden
often used to describe an idyllic time in the past that is remembered as better than today
the halcyon days of youth
Classics Illustrated have become pricey nostalgia items for those who grew up in the supposedly halcyon years after World War II.Donna Richardson
In those halcyon days of the free trade, the fixed price for carrying a box of tea or bale of tobacco from the coast of Galloway to Edinburgh was fifteen shillings …Sir Walter Scott
: calm, peaceful
a halcyon atmosphere
: of or relating to the halcyon (see halcyon entry 2) or its nesting period


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: a bird identified with the kingfisher and held in ancient legend to nest at sea about the time of the winter solstice and to calm the waves during incubation

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Halcyon has drifted along contentedly in English for centuries, but it hatched from a tumultuous story. According to Greek mythology, Alkyone, the daughter of the god of the winds, became so distraught over her husband Ceyx’s death at sea that she threw herself into the ocean to join him. The gods were moved by the couple’s love, and took pity on them by turning them into halcyon birds, a bird identified with the kingfisher. (Kingfishers are known for plunging into water after prey.) According to the legend, the birds built their nests on the sea, which so charmed Alkyone’s father that he created a period of unusual calm that lasted until the birds' eggs hatched. Our word halcyon reflects the story in multiple ways. When halcyon was first used in English in the 14th century it was as a noun referring to the mythical bird, and later to actual kingfishers as well. Adjective use developed in the 16th century and now most often evokes those calm waters—the word typically describes an idyllic time in the past.

Examples of halcyon in a Sentence

Adjective a halcyon era following the American Civil War during those early halcyon years the company's potential for growth seemed unlimited
Recent Examples on the Web
Judging by the lineup, the event seems intended to honor hip-hop’s present and history: Common and Jeezy came up in the 1990s and the ‘00s, respectively, while female rappers MC Lyte and Roxanne Shante are both from the genre’s halcyon days of the early 1980s. Jem Aswad, Variety, 8 Sep. 2023 But even in those halcyon days, Congress was a frustrating, exhausting place, especially for someone like Hurd. Grace Segers, The New Republic, 11 Aug. 2023 What could the suave, eight-time Grammy Award-winning pop and jazz singer have in common with Captain Trips, as the deceased leader of the Grateful Dead was known back in the halcyon days of hippie-dom in the late 1960s? George Varga, San Diego Union-Tribune, 23 July 2023 There’s comfort in talk of restoration, of a halcyon era recovered. Ian MacDougall, Harper's Magazine, 12 Sep. 2022 Blur cultivates that new-wave look and sound, evoking the halcyon days of yore when London produced weekly pop sensations the way today’s American college towns produce Superchunk clones. Rob Sheffield, SPIN, 6 July 2023 But war had somehow changed since the halcyon days of Tommy and Fritz. Matthew Gavin Frank, Harper's Magazine, 21 Nov. 2022 Four decades later, PIR is taking a trip back to its halcyon days. Joe Freeman, oregonlive, 21 June 2023 Yet studio work, much courtesy of streamer orders, may rebound, but never return to the halcyon levels of the last few years. John Hopewell, Variety, 11 June 2023
The goal isn’t some halcyon, all-forgiving unity between MAGA World and everyone else; too much damage has been done for that. Whitney Phillips, Wired, 24 Nov. 2020 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'halcyon.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Noun and Adjective

Middle English alceon, from Latin halcyon, from Greek alkyōn, halkyōn

First Known Use


1570, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of halcyon was in the 14th century


Dictionary Entries Near halcyon

Cite this Entry

“Halcyon.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/halcyon. Accessed 3 Dec. 2023.

Kids Definition


1 of 2 noun
hal·​cy·​on ˈhal-sē-ən How to pronounce halcyon (audio)
: a bird identified with the kingfisher and believed in ancient legend to nest at sea in December and calm the waves


2 of 2 adjective
: calm entry 3 sense 2, peaceful
halcyon days
the halcyon years of his childhood


Middle English alceon "kingfisher," from Latin halcyon (same meaning), from Greek halkyōn "legendary bird that builds a nest at sea"

Word Origin
According to ancient legend, fourteen days of good weather occurred every year around December 22. This time of clear skies and calm seas was thought to be the result of a magical bird's concern for her nest. The legend explained that the female kingfisher built a floating nest on the sea during this period. She calmed the waves and winds to keep her nest safe. The Greek name for the kingfisher was halkyōn. English borrowed the Latin spelling of the bird's name, and today we call any quiet, peaceful period halcyon days.
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