Words in the News


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter

Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to dance onto the stage to the strains of ABBA’s Dancing Queen before delivering her big speech at this week’s tory party conference divided opinion, but certainly got her lots of headlines (not to mention the inevitable memes and gifs). As a dreadful dancer myself, I’m not about to start criticizing her for what was more of a semi-rhythmic walk with some awkward arm swinging followed by a bit of a shoulder waggle than an actual dance. Instead, let’s take a look at the lovely word dance.

The main sense of dance has both an intransitive and a transitive meaning: to move in a pattern of movements that follows the sound of music (Everyone started dancing), and to perform a particular dance  (They danced a waltz). To dance also means to move in a lively graceful way, and if something such as fire or light dances, it makes quick light movements (or seems to). The noun dance also has several meanings, and forms part of many compounds which you can see by looking in the ‘Related words’ box at the entry.

When people dance the night away they spend the whole night dancing, or at least keep dancing until very late. If you dance attendance on someone you are always ready to do what they ask: the phrase can have slightly negative connotations, since it suggests a lack of independence and maturity on one or both sides. Dance to someone’s tune has a similar meaning, of always doing what someone tells you to.

The thesaurus entry for to dance lists many different ways of dancing, from boogieing to waltzing. If you look at the ‘Explore related meanings’ box at the thesaurus entry you will find related entries such as ‘Types of dance’ and ‘Dance movements’. To end with, here’s a bit of advice from Noel Coward.

Dance came into Middle English from the Old French verb ‘dancer’ whose origin is unknown.

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Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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