: vigorous spirit or enthusiasm

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Once upon a time, English speakers did not have élan (the word, that is; we have always had the potential for vigorous spirit). We had, however, the verb elance, meaning "to throw," that was used for the launching of darts, javelins, and similar weaponry. Elance is derived from the Middle French (s')eslancer, meaning "to rush or dash" (that is, "to hurl oneself forth"). Elance enjoyed only a short flight in English, largely falling into disuse by the mid-1800s, around which time English speakers picked up élan, another French word that traces back, via the Middle French noun eslan ("dash, rush"), to (s')eslancer. We copied élan in form from the French, but we dispensed with the French sense of a literal "rush" or "dash," retaining the sense of enthusiastic animation that we sometimes characterize as dash.

Example Sentences

The dancer performed with great élan.
Recent Examples on the Web Few working journalists have written history with as much elan and narrative force as the British author Paul Johnson, who died this week at age 94. The Editorial Board, WSJ, 13 Jan. 2023 With soulful elan, Rait, 72, and Staples, 83, delivered a stirring master class in musical excellence, emotional fervor and the art of simultaneously entertaining and uplifting an audience. San Diego Union-Tribune, 30 Dec. 2022 No worries, though: The adventures of a badass secret operative, played with furious elan by Pearl Thusi, has not dated a day. Scott Roxborough, The Hollywood Reporter, 23 Dec. 2022 The 23-year-old center fielder, acquired from Atlanta in the Matt Olson deal, plays with energy and elan, easing into an everyday role for an Oakland team still without incumbent center fielder Ramón Laureano due to suspension. Matt Kawahara, San Francisco Chronicle, 14 Apr. 2022 Orbiting her is a polished ensemble of singer-actors, who handle the nearly two dozen solo and choral numbers with the requisite elan. Washington Post, 31 Mar. 2022 Back then at the turn of the century virtually no other talented writers outside of niche metal publications were taking this music seriously, let alone writing about it with such elan. Matt Wake | Mwake@al.com, al, 9 Feb. 2022 With the white-tablecloth elan of a high-end steakhouse, Fogo de Chão is nevertheless fine with your shorts, your hat and your baby stroller. Mike Sutter, San Antonio Express-News, 11 Nov. 2021 The handsome Fox in Westwood (now known as Regency’s Village Theatre) and the lovely Alex in Glendale carry on with elan. Los Angeles Times, 20 Apr. 2021 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'élan.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Word History


French, from Middle French eslan rush, from (s')eslancer to rush, from ex- + lancer to hurl — more at lance

First Known Use

1864, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of élan was in 1864


Dictionary Entries Near élan

Cite this Entry

“élan.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/%C3%A9lan. Accessed 8 Feb. 2023.

More from Merriam-Webster on élan

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