Definition of descant in English:



  • 1An independent treble melody usually sung or played above a basic melody.

    • ‘The song is presented in three arrangements - in three parts with descant, in one part with a descant and in three parts without a descant and there is also a recording of the instrumental backing without singers.’
    • ‘Jacques told me that everyone was in such awe when I sang it, no one would sing the descant while I was at college.’
    • ‘A soaring girl soprano descant adds another heavenly layer to the already rich texture.’
    • ‘In some hymnals a descant is provided for the refrain.’
    • ‘During the descant finale, however, instinct won out.’
    1. 1.1archaic, literary A melodious song.
      • ‘Intoxicated with the idea, she ran through many a melodious descant, till, touching on the first strains of 'Thusa ha measg na reultan mor', she saw Wallace start from his contemplative position, and with a pale countenance leave the room.’
    2. 1.2A discourse on a theme or subject.
      ‘his descant of deprivation’
      • ‘These wonderful letters are a descant to the two recent major biographies.’
      • ‘It was an enjoyable evening but the danger of where we seem to be going kept reasserting itself like a descant to the pleasant sound of casual conversation.’
      • ‘I had been going to mark the 1000th posting here with a descant on futility and failure, as is traditional on New Year's Eve.’


[NO OBJECT]literary
  • Talk tediously or at length.

    ‘I have descanted on this subject before’
    • ‘It is a pleasure to hear my refugee patients descant on that great historical achievement.’
    • ‘When he has begun to descant on a subject which interests his morbid feelings, he knows not when to pass to another.’
    • ‘At one point, prior to descanting on conservatism with a small ‘c’, she says sharply, ‘Don't interrupt me during this bit ’, but I didn't really mind - it gave me time to eat.’


Late Middle English: from Old French deschant, from medieval Latin discantus part-song, refrain.