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 university says the new program is a joint effort between the colleges of engineering and liberal arts. USA TODAY, "Crystal Cathedral reborn Catholic, 'Conjuring' house, Wiki ‘editathon’: News from around our 50 states," 11 July 2019 Founded in 1833, Oberlin became one of the nation’s first colleges to admit African Americans, and its first coeducational liberal arts college. George Will, Twin Cities, "George Will: Oberlin has graduated from self-caricature to disgrace," 20 June 2019 Undergraduate programs range include liberal arts, nursing, jazz studies and art history. Graydon Megan,, "Elmhurst College to be renamed Elmhurst University next year," 19 June 2019 He is fully committed to the liberal arts and to Goucher’s role in educating our next generation. Liz Bowie,, "Goucher College names Kent Devereaux its new president as school deals with changing landscape for higher ed," 13 June 2019 The bakery sued the liberal arts college and Vice President and Dean of Students Meredith Raimondo after a robbery at the bakery. Emily Bamforth,, "Gibson’s Bakery awarded more than $11 million in years-long legal battle with Oberlin College," 7 June 2019 The American education system is exceptional for tracking late, where even at the university level students take some form of liberal arts and many don’t identify a major until their junior year. Allison Schrager, Quartz, "How young is too young to begin preparing for a career?," 6 June 2019 The thought has crossed Marty Walsh’s mind as the mayor watches the only public liberal arts university in Boston twist in the wind. Shirley Leung,, "Should Boston run UMass Boston? Walsh thinks it’s an idea worth discussing," 2 May 2018 The private, liberal arts university's main campus is in Parkville, Missouri, with 43 campus centers around the country, including at Luke Air Force Base in Glendale and Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson. Ryan Santistevan, azcentral, "Gilbert may have new university for empty Saint Xavier building," 4 Apr. 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

15 Jul 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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