What is a threnody?

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Increase your vocabulary and you’ll make your writing much more precise. That’s why I provide a word of the week. Today’s word: threnody.

I read Anne-Marie MacDonald’s landmark novel, Fall on Your Knees, back in 1997, the year in which it was published. Set largely in a Nova Scotia coal mining community the novel focuses on the Piper sisters and their troubled relationship with their father, James. I found the story gripping and couldn’t put it down.

For this reason, I looked forward to MacDonald’s latest book, Adult Onset. She’s such a fine writer, I thought. Sadly, I was wrong. The story of a successful young adult fiction author — and her partner and their children — Adult Onset attempts to portray the challenges of parenting. I found the storyline unspeakably dull and the writing hackneyed.

Still, the book gave me my word of the week, threnody. Here’s how MacDonald used it:

She looks up as she glides along—overhead the threnody of bare branches hums with new life set to burst into song.

threnody is a song, hymn or poem of mourning composed or performed as a memorial to a dead person. The word dates back to the 1630s, from the Greek threnodia, meaning “lamentation,” and from threnos meaning “dirge, lament.”

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