A mournful or elegiac poem or other literary work.
Roman Catholic Church The Office of the Dead.
Origin: Middle English, an antiphon at Matins in the Office of the Dead, from Medieval Latin dīrige Domine, direct, O Lord (the opening words of the antiphon), imperative of dīrigere, to direct; see direct.
Word History: The history of the word dirge illustrates how a word with neutral connotations, such as direct, can become emotionally charged because of a specialized use. The Latin word dīrige is a form of the verb dīrigere, “to direct, guide,” that is used in uttering commands. In the Office of the Dead dīrige is the first word in the opening of the antiphon for the first nocturn of Matins: “Dirige, Domine, Deus meus, in conspectu tuo viam meam,” “Direct, O Lord, my God, my way in thy sight.” The part of the Office of the Dead that begins with this antiphon was named Dīrige in Ecclesiastical Latin. This word with this meaning was borrowed into English as dirige, first recorded in a work possibly written before 1200. Dirige was then extended to refer to the chanting or reading of the Office of the Dead as part of a funeral or memorial service. In Middle English the word was shortened to dirge, although it was pronounced as two syllables. After the Middle Ages the word took on its more general senses of “a funeral hymn or lament” and “a mournful poem or musical composition,” and developed its one-syllable pronunciation.