• melisma •
mê-liz-mê • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. An ornate melody or fanciful sequence of musical grace notes. 2. A musical flourish or embellishment; the extension of several extra musical notes over one syllable in singing.
Notes: The uppity plural of today's word is melismata. That is because it was originally a Greek word and -ta is the correct Greek plural for words ending in MA. Melismas will do in relaxed situations. The adjective must retain the Greek suffix, though: 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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