1. a regular pattern of sounds or movements
2. a regular pattern of sounds in music that you can show by moving, hitting your hands together, or hitting a drum or other surface
3. a regular pattern of syllables in poetry
Origin and usage
The word rhythm originally derives from the Greek word ‘rhuthmos’, which relates to the word ‘rhein’ meaning ‘to flow’. It became popularly used in English from the mid-16th century onwards, and at first the word shared the same meaning as the word ‘rhyme’. Over time this changed, however, and rhythm now refers to the regular beat or cadence of music and words.
In almost every case, the word rhythm refers to a concept of regularity and recurrence, whether it is a regular beat in music or a specific aspect of language which produces rhythms in poetry. When it comes to music and lyrics, both these examples come together with the rhythm of the words having to match the beat of the music.
Rhythm and blues music, or R&B, is a type of popular music that originated in America in the 1940s. As the name implies, R&B is defined by a strong rhythm, typically made up of four equal measures with a heavy backbeat to create a musical pattern. This is combined with blues lyrics, reflecting the experiences of African American communities from which it sprang.
In other contexts, rhythm can also be applied to someone’s habits or work ethic. When someone is working in a productive and steady manner, they can be said to be in a good working rhythm. Rhythm is also applied to regular patterns in art, nature and life.
“Everything in the universe has a rhythm, everything dances.”
“I would define, in brief, the poetry of words as the rhythmical creation of beauty.”
(Edgar Allan Poe)
View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.