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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.


swan song

June 4th, 2015

Episode 216 of 689 episodes

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for June 04, 2015 is: swan song \SWAHN-SAWNG\ noun 1 : a song of great sweetness said to be sung by a dying swan 2 : a farewell appearance or final act or pronouncement Examples: Professor Holland gave the final lecture of his long career, and his swan song was met with a standing ovation from his students. "In hisswan songas Major League Baseball commissioner last year, Bud Selig scheduled Opening Day in Australia. Because, hey, nothing says spring and baseball more than playing the first game of the season at 3 a.m. 7,500 miles away from the nearest U.S. ballpark." Norman Chad, Chicago Sun-Times, April 11, 2015 Did you know? Swans don't sing. They whistle or trumpet, or in the case of the swan most common in ponds, the mute swan, they only hiss and snort. But according to ancient legend, the swan does sing one beautiful song in its lifejust before it dies. References in English to the dying swan's lovely singing go back as far as Chaucer, but the term swan song itself didn't appear in the language until the 1830s, when Thomas Carlyle used it in Sartor Resartus. Carlyle probably based his "swan song" on the German version of the term, which is Schwanengesang or Schwanenlied.

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