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 The conservative majority in Australia's government announced plans for a 113% hike in the fees associated with a degree in the liberal arts to allow for cheaper degrees in math, science, nursing, and languages. Madison Dibble, Washington Examiner, "Australia to raise university fees for humanities students in favor of 'job-relevant' degrees," 19 June 2020 For instance, workers with certificates in construction and other blue-collar trades often make more than liberal arts and humanities majors with bachelor’s degrees, the Georgetown Center found. Jon Marcus, Wired, "More Students Are ‘Stacking’ Credentials en Route to a Degree," 2 June 2020 The liberal arts and sciences ensure that our graduates have the skills and capacity to be fully engaged global citizens. Wim Wiewel, The New Republic, "The Case for Liberal Arts Education in a Time of Crisis," 27 May 2020 Founded in 1846, the university is a private institution grounded in the liberal arts and serving 2,300 students in undergraduate and graduate programs. Maria Shine Stewart, cleveland, "Applause, virtual and real, for our Hillcrest learning achievers: Sun Messages," 24 May 2020 The accusations and fallout from the administration’s response have rocked the 2,000-student liberal arts college in McMinnville. oregonlive, "Linfield College graduate accuses school of ignoring her abuse complaint, allowing board member to strike again," 23 May 2020 Small liberal arts colleges that never had a chance to add some of those professional fields, or to deepen their level of science, have struggled to keep up with the demand of what students want. Alia Malik,, "Trinity University president talks about coronavirus impact on campus and the future of higher education," 21 May 2020 After graduating from New York University with a liberal arts degree, West cycled through seven jobs in two years before landing a $60,000 position in corporate finance. Abigail Roberts, ABC News, "Lack of representation prompts African American artist to open Bronx gallery," 25 Feb. 2020 Adrian Garcia is leaning toward a liberal arts degree but hasn’t settled on a specific career path. Yvette Orozco, Houston Chronicle, "High school senior: Program for free tuition to San Jac ‘means everything’," 20 Feb. 2020

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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Time Traveler for liberal arts

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

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Last Updated

30 Jun 2020

Cite this Entry

“Liberal arts.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 2 Jul. 2020.

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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

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

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