min·​strel | \ ˈmin(t)-strəl How to pronounce minstrel (audio) \

Definition of minstrel

1 : one of a class of medieval musical entertainers especially : a singer of verses to the accompaniment of a harp wandering minstrels
2a : musician
b : poet
3a : 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

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Synonyms for minstrel


bard, muse, poet, poetaster, rhymester (also rimester), versifier

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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

Singing for your supper is a romantic notion with roots in the medieval minstrels of Europe. Hector Saldana, ExpressNews.com, "Piñata Protest, restaurant musicians celebrated at Talón Fest in San Antonio," 13 June 2019 The automated calls are narrated by someone pretending to be Gillum and using an exaggerated minstrel dialect with jungle noises in the background. Dylan Scott, Vox, "How racist robocalls and an FBI inquiry are shaking up the Florida governor’s race," 7 Nov. 2018 Cartoon characters’ rubberiness [sic], their jazziness, their cheerful buoyance and idleness, all chimed with popular images of African Americans, already embodied in minstrel shows. John Canemaker, WSJ, "Book Review: Building a Better Mouse," 18 Jan. 2019 The minstrel era is a controversial chapter in U.S. entertainment culture, with songs meant to mock black people. Geoff Edgers, Washington Post, "This mysterious recording was the missing musical link to an era when racism was the tune," 22 June 2018 The first minstrel shows were performed in the 1830s, and a popular blackface character, Jim Crow, became the name of racist policies against African-Americans more than a century later. Megan Friedman, Good Housekeeping, "Here's Everything You Need to Know About Megyn Kelly’s NBC Exit," 26 Oct. 2018 As Jenée Desmond-Harris explained for Vox in 2014, blackface dates back to minstrel shows in the mid- to late 19th century. P.r. Lockhart, Vox, "Megyn Kelly’s initial defense of blackface ignored the practice’s deeply racist history," 24 Oct. 2018 While Guardian speculates the title is a reference to minstrel shows, the outlet also points to a 1985 Prince song with the same name. Zoe Haylock, The Hollywood Reporter, "6 Memorable Moments From Chris Rock's 'Tamborine'," 14 Feb. 2018 Consider Glover's dancing, presumably choreographed to mimic a minstrel character; the murder of choir singers, evoking the Charleston church massacre; and death riding in on a white horse. Sonia Rao, chicagotribune.com, "A new era of political music videos is born," 14 June 2018

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

14th century, in the meaning defined at sense 1

History and Etymology for minstrel

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

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Statistics for minstrel

Last Updated

17 Jun 2019

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Time Traveler for minstrel

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

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English Language Learners Definition of minstrel

: a musical entertainer in the Middle Ages
US : a member of a group of entertainers who performed black American songs and jokes usually with blackened faces


min·​strel | \ ˈmin-strəl How to pronounce minstrel (audio) \

Kids Definition of minstrel

1 : a musical entertainer in the Middle Ages
2 : a member of a group of entertainers who performed black American melodies and jokes with blackened faces in the 19th and early 20th centuries

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More from Merriam-Webster on minstrel

Thesaurus: All synonyms and antonyms for minstrel

Spanish Central: Translation of minstrel

Nglish: Translation of minstrel for Spanish Speakers

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about minstrel

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