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Swan Song

I have my school website which I haven't updated very often. Oh, the site is written in Japanese. Yesterday, a visitor posted this question: Is the phrase "swan song", which means one's last work, commonly used by native English speakers?

I'm not familiar with the expression. So let me ask you for your opinion. Do you often hear this phrase? How does it sound to you?


i often hear this phrase, and I would say it's common enough. I've always kind of liked it, though i've never stopped to ponder where it comes from. Used a lot with sports (for example, yesterday's Sumo match might have been Takanohana's swan song).

My mother uses this phrase, ol' romantic that she is. Lately, it's been amplified in my mind in that, on my way to work, I have to skirt Long Lake. There on the north side of the lake many a morning are a couple of swans feeding or grooming in the shallows by the private piers. Also, some disturbed individual(s) this summer purposely assaulted and killed a swan. It made the local papers. Swans, as you may know, mate for life, which gives the phrase "swan song" much poignancy.


I don't know if it originated from this source, but I remember reading Plato in college and a discussion by Socrates that the final (and apparently only) song of a swan being the most sweet. Of course the analogy was made tying Socrates' final teachings before taking hemlock as his swan song.


I rarely hear it in ordinary conversation, but it is common enough in radio or TV commentary on sports or the arts--a sportwriter's cliche to mean one last great work or deed before retirement (or death). I don't think I've ever said it, or heard someone else say it in day to day conversations.

After reading the various comments above, I realized, like many words and phrases used in everyday speech, I didn't precisely what it mean. So I looked it up in my dictionary. 1: a song of great sweetness said to be sung by a dying swan; 2: a farewell appearance or final act or pronouncement.

Thanks folks!

MNW, swans come to the lakes around here in winter. Seeing them, I'll remember the tragedy you mentioned.

After reading your comment I was wondering why it is that for me it seems relatively common (though admittedly not in day to day conversations)...my father was a sportswriter! And since for a time I was following in his footsteps, it must be part of my lexicon where for others it might not be. :)