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[n., adj. des-kant; v. des-kant, dis-] /n., adj. ˈdɛs kænt; v. dɛsˈkænt, dɪs-/
  1. a melody or counterpoint accompanying a simple musical theme and usually written above it.
  2. (in part music) the soprano.
  3. a song or melody.
a variation upon anything; comment on a subject.
Music (chiefly British)
  1. soprano:
    a descant recorder.
  2. treble:
    a descant viol.
verb (used without object)
Music. to sing.
to comment or discourse at great length.
Also, discant.
1350-1400; Middle English discant, descaunt < Anglo-French < Medieval Latin discanthus, equivalent to Latin dis- dis-1 + cantus song; see chant
Related forms
descanter, noun Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2015.
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Examples from the web for descant
  • Shakes his bright plumes, and trills his descant free.
  • Plan an accompaniment such as a descant or rhythmic part to be used in performance of repertoire.
  • Most stagecoach drivers liked to descant to the customers, but in a vein of bold invention.
  • Create a descant or ostinato to a previously learned melody.
  • Hut it would ill become me te descant upon your duties, or the possibilities within your reach.
British Dictionary definitions for descant


noun (ˈdɛskænt; ˈdɪs-)
Also discant. a decorative counterpoint added above a basic melody
a comment, criticism, or discourse
adjective (ˈdɛskænt; ˈdɪs-)
Also discant. of or pertaining to the highest member in common use of a family of musical instruments: a descant recorder
verb (intransitive) (dɛsˈkænt; dɪs-)
Also discant, often foll by on or upon. to compose or perform a descant (for a piece of music)
often foll by on or upon. to discourse at length or make varied comments
Derived Forms
descanter, noun
Word Origin
C14: from Old Northern French, from Medieval Latin discantus, from Latin dis-1 + cantus song; see chant
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin and History for descant

late 14c., from Old North French descant (Old French deschant), from Medieval Latin discantus "refrain, part-song," from Latin dis- "asunder, apart" (see dis-) + cantus "song" (see chant). Spelling was partly Latinized 16c. Originally "counterpoint."


mid-15c.; see descant (n.). Sense of "to comment at length" is first attested 1640s.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Encyclopedia Article for descant

(from Latin discantus, "song apart"), countermelody either composed or improvised above a familiar melody. Descant can also refer to an instrument of higher-than-normal pitch, such as a descant recorder. In late medieval music, discantus referred to a particular style of organum featuring one or more countermelodies added to a newly rhythmicized plainsong melody. Discantus in this sense is usually spelled discant in English translation

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Encyclopedia Britannica, 2008. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.
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