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

Wyeth did make images of African Americans in his role as an illustrator for commercial advertisements, including renderings of Aunt Jemima, a minstrel-show figure used to market a pancake mix since 1889, but those aren’t included in the exhibition. Philip Kennicott, Washington Post, "N.C. Wyeth painted the world full of beauty, resilience and adventure. And full of white people.," 3 July 2019 The Widow Jones’ and what most people don’t realize is that May Irwin herself was actually a very famous minstrel performer. Nina Metz, chicagotribune.com, "How America’s earliest films were based in minstrelsy," 19 June 2019 The protagonist has deep black skin and oversized red lips that distort and exaggerate African facial features, much like in minstrel performance. Nadra Nittle, Vox, "Prada pulled a collection of figurines that drew comparisons to anti-black caricatures," 14 Dec. 2018 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

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

15 Jul 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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something desired as essential

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