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late 14c., "play or other serious literary work with an unhappy ending," from Old French tragedie (14c.), from Latin tragedia "a tragedy," from Greek tragodia "a dramatic poem or play in formal language and having an unhappy resolution," apparently literally "goat song," from tragos "goat" + oide "song." The connection may be via satyric drama, from which tragedy later developed, in which actors or singers were dressed in goatskins to represent satyrs. But many other theories have been made (including "singer who competes for a goat as a prize"), and even the "goat" connection is at times questioned. Meaning "any unhappy event, disaster" is from c.1500.
A serious drama in which a central character, the protagonist — usually an important, heroic person — meets with disaster either through some personal fault or through unavoidable circumstances. In most cases, the protagonist's downfall conveys a sense of human dignity in the face of great conflict. Tragedy originated in ancient Greece in the works of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. In modern times, it achieved excellence with William Shakespeare in such works as Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth, and Othello. Twentieth-century tragedies include Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller, and Murder in the Cathedral, by T. S. Eliot.
Note: Aristotle argued that the proper effect of tragedy is catharsis — the purging of the emotions.
Note: In common usage, disasters of many kinds are called tragedies.