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.
November 18th, 2014
Episode 22 of 797 episodes
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for November 18, 2014 is: leitmotif \LYTE-moh-teef\ noun 1 : a melodic phrase or figure that accompanies the reappearance of an idea, person, or situation in a music drama 2 : a dominant recurring theme Examples: The overcoming of obstacles and a love of theater are the two leitmotifs of her autobiography. "'Collaboration' is the author's supporting theme, and he weaves it in throughout his anecdotes and character studies. Approached lazily, this kind of leitmotif would be more irritating than illuminating, but Isaacson fully commits." James Norton, The Christian Science Monitor, October 13, 2014 Did you know? The English word leitmotif (or leitmotiv, as it is also spelled) comes from the German Leitmotiv, meaning "leading motive" and formed from leiten ("to lead") and Motiv ("motive"). In its original sense, the word applies to opera music and was first used by writers interpreting the works of composer Richard Wagner, who was famous for associating a melody with a character or important dramatic element. Leitmotif is still commonly used with reference to music and musical drama but is now also used more broadly to refer to any recurring theme in the arts or in everyday life.