Definition of minstrel in English:

Share this entry


Pronunciation: /ˈmɪnstr(ə)l/


1A medieval singer or musician, especially one who sang or recited lyric or heroic poetry to a musical accompaniment for the nobility: they listened to the minstrels singing songs of knightly prowess
More example sentences
  • Poetry is often sung by minstrels and ballad singers.
  • Although most of their verse was set to music, sung by the Minnesinger themselves and often accompanied by professional minstrels, few melodies have survived from the first two centuries of the movement's existence.
  • They were meant for minstrels to sing in baronial halls.
musician, singer, balladeer
historical bard, troubadour, jongleur
rare joculator
1.1chiefly historical A member of a band of entertainers with blackened faces who performed songs and music ostensibly of black American origin.
Example sentences
  • Picking up where Elder Eatmore had left off, black entertainers continued to use minstrel antics into the 1940s and 1950s to parody and satirize black folk religion.
  • Later in his career, Douglass became a vocal opponent of minstrel humor, performed either by blacks or whites.
  • His career, which included stints as an amateur boxer, minstrel in black face and dancer, spanned seven decades in which he starred in five mediums: vaudeville, radio, stage, movies and television.


Middle English: from Old French menestral 'entertainer, servant', via Provençal from late Latin ministerialis 'servant' (see ministerial).

  • Originally a minstrel would be employed to provide a variety of entertainment. Minstrels sang, played music, told stories, juggled—whatever their employer demanded. A minstrel could be closer to a jester or buffoon than the singer of heroic and lyrical poetry that later writers romantically portrayed. Sir Walter Scott's poem The Lay of the Last Minstrel, published in 1805, was instrumental in developing this view. It is a romance based on an old Border ballad, put into the mouth of an ancient minstrel, the last of his race. The Irish poet Thomas Moore, who died in 1852, also played his part: in the song ‘The Minstrel Boy’ he wrote of ‘the warrior bard’ with ‘his wild harp slung behind him’. The original meaning of minstrel was simply ‘a servant’. It goes back to Latin minister ‘servant’, the source also of minister (Middle English).

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: min|strel

Share this entry

What do you find interesting about this word or phrase?

Comments that don't adhere to our Community Guidelines may be moderated or removed.