Imagine a mother who's lost her child recently. She's vocalizing and singing beautiful and tearjerking love songs to herself all the time, because she loves to reminisce about her lovely departed child. Sometimes the rest of the family join her: she sings and they all cry and sigh and stuff. You might say that she has a nice voice, but that's not the point in what she does. There's no intention of amusement or entertainment or showing off. It's all about remembrance and grief and (subconsciously) taking solace.

What is the term for that?

Edit: I want a verb that describes what she does.
I know of such verbs in Persian and in Arabic, but couldn't find a good English equivalent for them.

  • Maybe "blue", "mournful" or "melancholic" song.
    – Graffito
    Oct 23 '15 at 21:10
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    Do you want to describe the ritual of singing together after some emotional event, or do you want to describe the sound of the song?
    – James
    Oct 23 '15 at 21:11
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    I want a verb that describes what she does.
    – Færd
    Oct 23 '15 at 21:19
  • There are plenty of nouns and adverbs to describe the type of action you offer (many of which have already been proposed as answers), but to my knowledge, a verb specific to the situation you've proposed does not exist. I hope to be proven wrong. Lament can be used as a verb, even to indicate singing, but it's not solely used for that case. Oct 23 '15 at 21:21
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    I know of such verbs in Persian and in Arabic, but couldn't find a good English equivalent for them. I thought there would be one.
    – Færd
    Oct 23 '15 at 21:25

I don't think we're going to find a verb to specifically mean sing a song of grief (although I hope someone discovers one).

However, there are two nouns - elegy and dirge - which describe such a song. And there is the verb lament which is broader than just singing, but would include singing.

to sing an elegy - I think the best option to describe the form of music in your example

a sad poem or song : a poem or song that expresses sorrow for someone who is dead


to sing a dirge - could work, but often implies funeral

a song or hymn of grief or lamentation; especially : one intended to accompany funeral or memorial rites


lament - if you want to describe the way in which someone is singing in your example, then I think this would fit

Express passionate grief about


  • Updated to verbify my answer after OP's clarification. Oct 23 '15 at 21:24
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    Note that elegiac is an adjective/noun which, in one sense, refers to singing or poetry performed in the manner of an elegy.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 23 '15 at 21:41
  • @GrahamNicol Perhaps elegy is the nearest option so far. The dictionary definition is very close, yet somewhat brief. I couldn't find an example of elegy or singing an elegy online that would match what I had in mind. They were all too formal to fully fit the idea, I mean, not intimate enough, not improvisatory and unstudied enogh. Unsurprisingly, people around the world have different ways of grieving for their losses, and one shouldn't ask for a complex behavior in this culture to be translated into an exact word in another.
    – Færd
    Oct 24 '15 at 3:23

Keening (from the Irish) is a possibility.

  • I think keen evokes a more visceral and involuntary expression of grief than lament - best word so far! en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Keening
    – Dan
    Oct 23 '15 at 22:26
  • Definitely the best word yet. Keening is exactly the situation the question describes. Oct 23 '15 at 23:41
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    If keening is like this or this, it is not what I'm looking for. There is neither musicality nor poetry in that.
    – Færd
    Oct 24 '15 at 3:36
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    "From the Irish?". Even your own link says Old English cēne; related to Old High German kuoni brave, Old Norse koenn wise. But it's a good word to describe how Anglophones tend to lament vocally (as opposed to Arabs, who I think are more likely to "ululate"). Oct 24 '15 at 13:19
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    @FF: you are looking at the etymology for the adjective, not for the verb; they are not the same. (The OED says the verb comes from a noun , which comes from ' Irish caoine' but I thought that unnecessarily complex). Oct 24 '15 at 14:39

I am not aware of a verb that has the meaning you want and is a single-word.


She is singing mournfully

mournful Feeling, expressing, or inducing sadness, regret, or grief: her large, mournful eyes; mournful music
Oxford Dictionaries

There are many other adverbs that would express this alongside the verb 'to sing'.


Dirge (or lament)

She is singing a dirge or she is singing a lament.

1 A lament for the dead, especially one forming part of a funeral rite.

1.1 A mournful song, piece of music, or sound: singers chanted dirges; figurative the wind howled dirges around the chimney
Oxford Dictionaries

  • Lament, of course, can be a verb, though in that sense it doesn't tend to imply singing but something more akin to complaining.
    – Hot Licks
    Oct 23 '15 at 21:55
  • If only I could avoid the verb 'to sing'! And to sing a dirge sounds like performing a studied song, doesn't it? To lament a dirge would have been a closer fit.
    – Færd
    Oct 24 '15 at 5:18

Another word that fits, although I've never heard it used in real life, is ululate. The noun form (ululation) is more commonly used.

  • I was about to post this as an answer till I saw that you'd already done so. I have used the word in real life many years ago, insofar as an internet forum can be considered "real life". :)
    – Deepak
    Oct 24 '15 at 2:18
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    ululation is not so much singing as moaning and crying.
    – Færd
    Oct 24 '15 at 4:27
  • Given OP specifically mentions that he knows of such verbs in Persian and in Arabic, I think this must be the correct answer. Anglophones don't generally express personal grief/loss in this way, so you won't often hear the usage - but it's the cultural norm in most Arabic societies. Oct 24 '15 at 13:16
  • Yes, I think for us Westerners, we would simply say "singing mournfully", if indeed we are referring to a specific song... not wailing or lamenting or sighing, etc. If there is a specific word for this, I'm curious to know it! :)
    – Tim Ward
    Nov 3 '15 at 13:23

She is wailing or singing plaintively or singing/wailing out her woes.


  1. to utter a prolonged, inarticulate, mournful cry, usually high-pitched or clear-sounding, as in grief or suffering: to wail with pain.

  2. to make mournful sounds, as music or the wind.

  3. to lament or mourn bitterly Random House

As the women “ wail ” and the men “dance,” the community takes time to “demonstrate care and respect for the dead.” Kissing the Corpses in Ebola Country*

: to cry or sing plaintively VERBOTOMY


: utterance of grief or sorrow; a lamentation American Heritage® Dictionary

  • There's neither poetry nor musicality in wailing. Plaintive singing is closer.
    – Færd
    Oct 24 '15 at 4:04
  • @Farid Then, how about "fadoing," as in "she's fadoing her woes?"
    – Elian
    Oct 24 '15 at 12:59
  • There are many forms of Fado. There are happy, fast paced Fados Corridos (literally "Fast Fados"), and the sad, slow paced Fados which are known as Fados Menors. Fado is sung in resturants called "Casas de Fado" (literally Fado houses) with no microphones and dim lighting. (from a video on YouTube by a Portuguese person) So, It seems to be a form of entertainment.
    – Færd
    Oct 24 '15 at 13:35

I would say the lady is weeping over the death of her child.

weep: To express grief or anguish for; lament

(American Heritage Dictionary)

  • 1
    This is not so much singing as crying.
    – Færd
    Oct 24 '15 at 4:06

She could be said to be crooning:

To sing softly or in a humming way: crooning a lullaby. (-- thefreedictionary.com)

but this isn't always sad or mournful (it's generally used for a particular singing style typified by Bing Crosby) and you're probably going to need an adverb to get your meaning across.

  • 1
    I think crooning has a bias towards happiness. I barely came across a sad situation in the examples I found.
    – Færd
    Oct 24 '15 at 13:50

Requiem might fit:

1 : a mass for the dead

2 a : a solemn chant (as a dirge) for the repose of the dead b : something that resembles such a solemn chant

3 a : a musical setting of the mass for the dead b : a musical composition in honor of the dead

  • 1
    The word should be casual and imrovisatory. A requiem is a studied serious piece of music.
    – Færd
    Oct 24 '15 at 13:42

The OP is ambiguous - singing beautiful and tearjerking love songs (singing laments, perhaps) is distinct in my mind to vocalizing ... remembrance and grief (caoining/ keening). The former will likely be clearly structured and pre-existing. The latter will be improvisatory.

Incidentally, neither of the video clips found by the OP (a political protest and an American chat show) are remotely close to 'caoining', an individual expressing personal and intimate grief https://glosbe.com/ga/en/caoin, also https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/caoin

By its very nature caoining is not usually recorded.

  • Firstly, can I ask you what OP stands for? I'm a newbie here. Secondly, I know those videos didn't have anything to do with grief. I just meant to point out the sound they were making, that it did sound like keening and didn't sound like what I'd asked for. Finally, maybe you're right. I was looking for something between singing laments and keening, (kind of) the way some birds compose their melodious melancholy songs off-the-cuff, and say whatever comes to their minds.
    – Færd
    Oct 24 '15 at 20:37
  • OP stands for original post - that is, the question that began all of this (i.e. your question). The ambiguity in your question makes it difficult to suggest words. If I've understood you right, you want a verb to describe music that is improvisatory (so not lament or dirge), and private. Not as straight-forward as singing pre-existing songs (e.g. songs she used to sing to her child) but definitely a kind of music rather than a cry, moan or wail. Although I cannot direct you to an example Youtube clip, I think the closest English verb is keen (coming from the Gaelic caoin).
    – Dan
    Oct 24 '15 at 21:09
  • The Wikipedia link that you offered before, says: John Millington Synge's one-act play Riders to the Sea features a chorus of women from the Aran Islands mourning the death of their loved ones at sea. Here you are: the keening scene. It's not what I'd portrayed, I'm afraid.
    – Færd
    Oct 25 '15 at 2:49

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