• melisma •
Pronunciation: mê-liz-mê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun, mass (no plural)
Meaning: 1. An ornate melody or fancy sequence of musical (grace) notes. 2. A musical flourish or embellishment; the extension of one syllable over several musical notes in singing.
Notes: The uppity plural of today's word is melismata; that is because it was originally Greek and -ata is a Greek plural ending common after M. Melismas will do in relaxed situations. The adjective must retain the Greek suffix: melismatic. Jazz and rock singers who embellish each syllable of a word with extra notes are indulging in melismatics when they do so.
In Play: Today's word first and foremost refers to extending the notes associated with a syllable in a song by several other 'grace' notes or embellishments: "I think that many of the jazz singers today overdo the melisma in their singing as they compete with other singers." However, we can think of other vocal activities resembling music where it might apply: "Not only does Flo Wright speak mellifluously, she does so with a melismatic intonation that captivates her audience."
Word History: Today's Good Word is based on Greek melos "tune, song" from melizein "to sing". This root is obviously related to English melody, borrowed via French from Latin melodia. The Romans, in turn, borrowed the word from Greek meloidia "singing, choral song" based on melos "tune" + aoide "ode, song". The word for "ode" comes from another verb meaning "to sing", aeidein. The same root is behind comedy and tragedy. The former comes from a Greek compound komos "revel" + aoide "song" while the latter goes back to one of the great mysteries of etymology: tragos "goat" + aoide "song"! (Today's melodious Good Word comes to us from the melismatic mind of Larry Brady, the Stargazer of the Alpha Agora.)
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