minstrel

noun

min·​strel ˈmin(t)-strəl How to pronounce minstrel (audio)
plural minstrels
1
: one of a class of medieval musical entertainers
especially : a singer of verses to the accompaniment of a harp
wandering minstrels
2
a
b
: poet
3
a
: a member of a type of performance troupe caricaturing Black performers that originated in the U.S. in the early 19th century

Note: The acts of minstrels, who typically performed in blackface, featured exaggerated and inaccurate representations of Black people in songs, dances, and comic dialogue. The popularity of minstrel shows in their heyday played a significant role in promoting negative racial stereotypes. Professional minstrel shows had fallen out of favor and effectively disappeared by the mid-20th century.

b
: a performance by a troupe of minstrels : a minstrel show

Examples of minstrel in a Sentence

Edna St. Vincent Millay was unofficially the minstrel of Maine, as her poetry celebrates its coast and countryside.
Recent Examples on the Web Simmons directly references vintage cartoons that used racist caricatures and minstrel imagery, Sirmans said. Amanda Rosa, Miami Herald, 31 Jan. 2024 Most are records of payments made to minstrels, listed by their first names and instruments played. Jennifer Ouellette, Ars Technica, 15 June 2023 How did this music surpass its muses from the holds to the plantation to the medicine shows and minstrels and brothels and jukes, to the Grammys red carpet, lavish video shoots and MTV Cribs? Harmony Holiday, Los Angeles Times, 1 Dec. 2023 The performers take the audience on a journey with new circus experiences including wandering minstrels, story-tellers, jesters, musicians, acrobats and aerial acts. oregonlive, 26 July 2023 The minstrel show, which persisted onstage and onscreen well into the 20th century, accounts for the banjo’s conflicted legacy — both part of the visual vocabulary of white supremacy and a point of creative contact between Black and white musicians. Adam Bradley Justin French, New York Times, 10 Nov. 2023 The ocean-view kitchen, with granite counters and Viking appliances, is set a half-floor below the main level, which gives it easier access to the entertainment terrace, while a minstrel’s gallery-like loft overlooks the living room. Mark David, Robb Report, 26 Sep. 2023 In it, June cited the hostile work environment, including threats of violence and even an incident where drawings that depicted African Americans as Black minstrels were found on site. Prem Thakker, The New Republic, 8 June 2023 Wade believes the minstrel in these new texts was more of a local performer. Laura Baisas, Popular Science, 31 May 2023 See More

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

Word History

Etymology

Middle English menestral, menstral, mynstral, borrowed from Anglo-French menestral, menestrel "servant, attendant, official, workman, musical entertainer," borrowed from Medieval Latin ministeriālis "servant, functionary in a lord's household, official," going back to Late Latin, "imperial official," noun derivative of ministeriālis "serving, performing a duty" — more at ministerial

First Known Use

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

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

Dictionary Entries Near minstrel

Cite this Entry

“Minstrel.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/minstrel. Accessed 26 Feb. 2024.

Kids Definition

minstrel

noun
min·​strel ˈmin(t)-strəl How to pronounce minstrel (audio)
1
: a medieval musical entertainer
especially : a singer of verses accompanied by music
2
a
b
: poet
3
a
: one of a group of performers giving a program of black American melodies and jokes usually with faces blackened with makeup
b
: a performance by a group of minstrels

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