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 And while the small, liberal arts college in Easton, Pennsylvania lacks the same kind of football spotlight as the in-state Big Ten programs, that’s not a big deal to Schuster nor the Chippewa Valley guidance counselor, who happens to be his coach. Wright Wilson, Detroit Free Press, 27 Sep. 2021 More reporting revealed that the issue went far beyond one municipality and one small liberal arts college in Paxton., 22 Sep. 2021 The private liberal arts college in Memphis, Tennessee, informed students June 8 that those who are unvaccinated will have to pay $1,500 per semester to cover the costs of weekly testing. Madison Fernandez, Forbes, 21 June 2021 The prestigious private liberal arts college celebrating its 200th anniversary this year had already mandated COVID-19 vaccinations. From Usa Today Network And Wire Reports, USA TODAY, 1 Sep. 2021 The prestigious private liberal arts college, which is celebrating its 200th anniversary this year, had already mandated vaccinations for students, faculty and staff., 31 Aug. 2021 Those are skills that are cultivated not by STEM, for all its virtues, but by a liberal arts education. George Calhoun, Forbes, 31 Aug. 2021 The offer of full-ride scholarships from Centre College, a private liberal arts school in Kentucky, and the University of Texas at Dallas left Michael pleased with himself. Neal Morton, The Christian Science Monitor, 31 Aug. 2021 Dilfer, who played quarterback in the NFL from 1994 until 2007, is now the head coach at Lipscomb Academy, a private Christian liberal arts school in Nashville. oregonlive, 30 Aug. 2021

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

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Last Updated

5 Oct 2021

Cite this Entry

“Liberal arts.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 25 Oct. 2021.

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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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