Merriam-Webster Word of the Day: Lyrical

The Merriam-Webster Word of the Day is lyrical. Read on for what it means, how it’s used, and more.

What It Means

Something described as lyrical has an artistically beautiful or expressive quality, often one that is reminiscent of song.

// The most time-honored political speeches in the nation’s history, regardless of subject, all tend to share an elegant, lyrical quality that makes them memorable across the ages.

LYRICAL in Context

“‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ has a lot of story to dramatize, and Sorkin’s adaptation moves with smooth efficiency. … Miriam Buether’s scenic design doesn’t strive for cozy realism. The settings, enkindled by Jennifer Tipton’s lighting, are sketched against a lyrical, abstract background.” — Charles McNulty, The Los Angeles Times, 28 Oct. 2022

Did You Know?

To the ancient Greeks, anything lyrikos was appropriate to the lyre. That elegant stringed instrument was highly regarded by the Greeks and was used to accompany intensely personal poetry that revealed the thoughts and feelings of the poet. When the adjective lyric, a descendant of lyrikos, was adopted into English in the mid-late 1500s, it too referred to things pertaining or adapted to the lyre. It initially described poets, emotionally expressive poetic forms (such as elegiesodes, or sonnets), or works meant to be sung. Two lexical developments came soon after: lyric gained noun use as a term for a lyric composition or poem, and lyrical was adopted as an alternate adjective form. Lyrical is now the more common adjective; it’s used broadly to describe writing or other creative works that have an artistically beautiful or expressive quality. Meanwhile, in modern use lyric is most familiar in its plural noun form—a song’s lyrics are its words. In other uses lyric is a technical term limited mostly to poetry (a lyric poet writes lyric poems, i.e., poems that express direct emotion) and opera (many opera companies use the word in their names, and a lyric soprano has a light voice and melodic style).

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