Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a type of dancing used for telling a story, with complicated movements that need great skill and a lot of training

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun ballet was borrowed from words in French and Italian, ‘ballet’ and ‘balletto’ respectively. It has been used in English since the early 17th century.


On World Ballet Day it seems like a good idea to look at the language associated with this art form. While classical music is pervaded with Italian, the language of ballet remains predominantly French. This is reflected in the prounciation /ˈbæleɪ/ in British English, often /bæˈleɪ/ in American – which as with other words of French origin (buffet, gilet) drops the final ‘t’. Ballet differs from the more general term ‘dance’ (which is of German origin) in restricting itself to what the OED describes as ‘precise and highly formalized set steps and techniques’. These steps and techniques have generally retained their French names: so we speak of arabesques, pirouettes, pliés and jetés, while the group of dancers is called the corps de ballet and a dance for two people is a pas de deux. The odd ones out are the Italian terms ballerina and prima ballerina, used to refer to the principal female dancer, the equivalent of the prima donna in opera. Classical ballerinas often wear tutus, another word of French origin.


“Ladies and gentlemen, it takes more than one to make a ballet.”
(Dame Ninette de Valois)

“You don’t have to know about ballet to enjoy it, all you have to do is look at it.”
(Edwin Denby)

Related words

dance, choreography, gesture, step

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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