liberal arts

plural noun

Definition of liberal arts

1 : the medieval studies comprising the trivium and quadrivium
2 : college or university studies (such as language, philosophy, literature, abstract science) intended to provide chiefly general knowledge and to develop general intellectual capacities (such as reason and judgment) as opposed to professional or vocational skills

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Why do we call the liberal arts "liberal"?

The liberal in liberal arts, a cornerstone of the education of so many, has very little to do with political leanings; its roots can be traced to the Latin word liber, meaning “free, unrestricted.” Our language took the term from the Latin liberales artes, which described the education given to freeman and members of the upper classes, and involved training in the mind (grammar, logic, geometry, etc.). The lower classes were educated in the servile arts, which were mechanical or occupational in nature. The phrase liberal arts has been part of our language for a very long time, with use dating back to the 14th century.

Examples of liberal arts in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

Lexington is home to Washington and Lee University, a private liberal arts school. Jessica Mendoza, The Christian Science Monitor, "In Red Hen aftermath, a community wades through nation's vitriol," 29 June 2018 Lake Forest College is a liberal arts school, so there is a lot of interaction and daily contact and conversations with students. Daniel I. Dorfman,, "Shout Out: Muris Hadzic, assistant professor at Lake Forest College," 20 June 2018 For more than 70 years the 1,500-student private liberal arts school in Portland, Oregon, has required every freshman to take a yearlong course covering the Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman canon (Humanities 110). The Editorial Board, WSJ, "Reed College Bows to the Bullies," 19 Apr. 2018 When the former president was deployed as a Navy pilot after their engagement, Bush entered women’s liberal arts school Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Lindsay Kimble,, "Former First Lady Barbara Bush Dies at 92: 'A Woman Unlike Any Other'," 17 Apr. 2018 Struggling Mount Ida College, a liberal arts school with roots dating back to 1899, will close and UMass Amherst will acquire its Newton campus under an agreement finalized Friday. Laura Krantz,, "Mount Ida College to close; UMass to acquire Newton campus," 6 Apr. 2018 Booth would graduate in 1972 from Woodward High School in Bond Hill and enroll in Morehouse College in Atlanta, a historically important African-American, all-male liberal arts school that was King's undergraduate alma mater. Mark Curnutte,, "`To Paul, For whom I wish a great future.' King lives on in 1964 message to Paul Booth," 3 Apr. 2018 In 1956, Huizenga enrolled at Calvin College, a liberal arts school in Grand Rapids, Mich., affiliated with the Christian Reformed Church. Mike Clary,, "H. Wayne Huizenga, South Florida business titan, dead at 80," 23 Mar. 2018 To Nakesha, Williams College, a competitive private liberal arts school in pastoral Berkshire County, must have seemed a world away from home. Benjamin Weiser, New York Times, "A ‘Bright Light,’ Dimmed in the Shadows of Homelessness," 3 Mar. 2018

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'liberal arts.' 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 liberal arts

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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Last Updated

25 Feb 2019

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The first known use of liberal arts was in the 14th century

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More Definitions for liberal arts

liberal arts


English Language Learners Definition of liberal arts

: areas of study (such as history, language, and literature) that are intended to give you general knowledge rather than to develop specific skills needed for a profession

More from Merriam-Webster on liberal arts

Nglish: Translation of liberal arts for Spanish Speakers Encyclopedia article about liberal arts

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an enemy or opponent

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