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Build your vocabulary with Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day! Each day a Merriam-Webster editor offers insight into a fascinating new word -- explaining its meaning, current use, and little-known details about its origin.


a cappella

March 1st, 2016

Episode 465 of 681 episodes

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for March 1, 2016 is: a cappella \ah-kuh-PEL-uh\ adverb or adjective : without instrumental accompaniment Examples: The audience quieted when the singer walked out and began singing a cappella. "… one woman came all the way from Portugal to sing an a cappellaversion of 'Space Oddity'…. She repeated before and after her solo how much she appreciated Bowie's sense of humor." — Joy C. Mitchell, billboard.com, 17 Jan. 2016 Did you know? A cappella arrived in English from Italian sometime around the late-18th century. In Italian, a cappella means "in chapel or choir style." Cappella is the Italian word for "chapel"; the English word chapel is ultimately (if independently) derived from the Medieval Latin word cappella, which is the source of the Italian cappella as well. Scholars once thought all "chapel style" music written before the 1600s was performed a cappella, but modern research has revealed that instruments might have doubled or substituted for some voices back then. Today a cappella describes a purely vocal performance.