Saturday, August 27, 2005

Word of the Day for Saturday August 27, 2005

descant \DES-kant\, noun:
1. (Music) (a) A melody or counterpoint sung above the plain
song of the tenor. (b) The upper voice in part music.
2. A discourse or discussion on a theme.

\DES-kant; des-KANT; dis-\, intransitive verb:
1. (a) To sing or play a descant. (b) To sing.
2. To comment freely; to discourse at length.

[T]hese to their nests,
Were slunk, all but the wakeful nightingale;
She all night long her amorous descant sung.
--John Milton, [1]Paradise Lost

When they start on one of their polarised descants, whether
on state education, water rates, crime, the BBC or
whatever, they sound like a bumble bee and a wasp fighting
in a jam jar.
--Gillian Reynolds, "The biggest things to hit radio,"
[2]Daily Telegraph, May 14, 1999

Mr. Ackroyd's descant on "Great Expectations" is the work
of a master.
--Alison Lurie, "Hanging Out With Hogarth," [3]New York
Times, October 11, 1992

In a custom associated with Athenian gatherings but almost
certainly followed elsewhere as well, a myrtle branch was
passed around the room, and each of the assembled would
descant as the wine flowed.
--David Barber, "Children of Orpheus," [4]The Atlantic,
June 10, 1998

The police amusingly descant on these jottings: "I can't
believe he'd ever write a sentence like 'I shall be
compelled to take steps to silence you!'"
--Christopher Buckley, "The Chekhov of Coldsands-on-Sea,"
[5]New York Times, November 16, 1997

Descant is derived from Medieval Latin discantus, "a refrain,"
from Latin dis- + cantus, "song," from the past participle of
canere, "to sing."

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