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Lullaby: An etymology

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Weekender Editor

DECEMBER 03, 2022

Lullaby [ˈlʌləbaɪ]:

1. Slumber song “sung to infants.” 2. Sing as to lull goodnight.

Song spun from “lull” + “good-bye.” From: “lull” (verb) as in lulled, lulls, lulling. From: “lull” (noun) as in the lull before the storm, pause, break, breathing space. Liminal state between wakefulness and sleep. Also: Any quieting song. Any melodic sprawl.

Any rhythmic fall. See: cadentia, “a falling.” Falling leaves. The setting sun. A tonic slippage, rainfall. April Rain Song, Langston Hughes, 1921: Let the rain sing you a lullaby. Rainwater weeps like a child. From: Middle English lollai and lullay, 14th century. Medieval lullaby sung by women: Lullay, lullay, little child, why do you weep so sadly? / With sorrow you come into this world, with sorrow you will wend away. Sorrowful world — weep, grieve, fall asleep. Lament. 

See: lullament, lullaby met with lament and lament with lullaby. Music for dreaming. Loss reimagined. Loss sung into body and into ear. Dialectical current: Stasis, movement. Nurturance, grief. Awake, asleep. Silence, song. Vibrations of the human heart.

Heartbeat (blood flow). Radial pulse. Push. Under one’s breath. Breathe sound into the arms of sleep. From: Middle Dutch lollen (“to mutter”). Mutter (German for “mother”). See: Mother Goose’s Melody, London, circa 1765: Rock-a-bye baby on the tree top/ When the wind blows a cradle will rock. Cradlesong. From: German lullen (“to rock”). A small boat rocking on the Danube river. 

River mouth (reciprocity). Some bodily convergence. Hold someone’s hand for the first time. Oscillation, affinity in movement. Longing for communion. Also: Any act of swaying, dangling. Any dance. Key changes. Oneiric modulations. One who soothes. One who hums. From: Swedish lulla (“to hum a lullaby”). Tendency to hum. From: lu-lu (“sound used to lull”). Release of laughter (of lulz). Hum, hush.

Murmuration is the word used to describe the flocking of starlings in flight. From: Sanskrit lolati (“moves to and fro”). Murmuring, soaring, swirling. See: synchrony. Moves “like one bird.” Happening “at the same time.” Evening ritual. Murmuration is a feathered lullaby in the sky. The swelling of stars. 

Orchestral nocturne, The World in the Evening. Drowsy eyes, silent night. A measurement of proximity to rest. Promise of sweet dreams. The walk home alone. L’heure bleue  — “blue hour” in the city. Moonglow on the skin. Blueness of winter. Familiar sounds. Mother’s voice. Sleep.

Contact Sabrina Miranda at 


JANUARY 23, 2023