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


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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 Later, Texas Cowboys minstrel shows, first held in Hogg Auditorium in 1940 and later in Gregory Gym, featured renditions of the song in blackface. Nick Moyle, San Antonio Express-News, "University of Texas committee finds 'no racist intent in 'The Eyes of Texas'," 9 Mar. 2021 Gilbert showed solid comic timing both vocally and physically as not-dead Fred, a very literal minstrel and a delicate prince. Matthew J. Palm, orlandosentinel.com, "Orlando Theater Best of 2020: Critic’s Picks," 23 Dec. 2020 Quaker Oats retired Aunt Jemima, allowing her real-life forebearer, Nancy Green, to step out of the shadows of a minstrel past. Thomas Curwen, Los Angeles Times, "This year was not supposed to be anything like 2019 — and COVID made sure of it," 13 Dec. 2020 Also shining in multiple roles: Scott Gilbert, who shows solid comic timing both vocally and physically as not-dead Fred, a very literal minstrel and a delicate prince. Matthew J. Palm, orlandosentinel.com, "Semi-masked and silly, ‘Spamalot’ gets the job done | Review," 19 Sep. 2020 Back in June, Quaker Oats came under fire for their Aunt Jemima brand of syrup and pancake mix, which features a Black woman originally dressed as a minstrel character. Rania Aniftos, Billboard, "Master P Wants to Replace Aunt Jemima & Uncle Ben’s With His Own Brand," 1 Sep. 2020 The 130-year-old brand features a Black woman who was originally dressed as a minstrel character. NBC News, "Cream of Wheat reviews Black chef packaging in light of 'systemic racism'," 18 June 2020 Richard left home to join a minstrel show run by a man known as Sugarloaf Sam, occasionally appearing in drag. Anchorage Daily News, "Little Richard, flamboyant rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, dead at 87," 9 May 2020 Take heed all those considering hiring that minstrel. Tony Chambers, Fortune, "Why running a healthy studio is its own design challenge," 3 Mar. 2020

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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Time Traveler for minstrel

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

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Last Updated

15 Mar 2021

Cite this Entry

“Minstrel.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/minstrel. Accessed 12 May. 2021.

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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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