reprise: to repeat the performance of MW

repeat: to make, do, or perform again MW

Is there a difference in their connotations? For example, are both of the following appropriate?

We shall not repeat/reprise our failure last year.

  • The question I would be interested in investigating is, How and when did reprise become a close synonym for repeat in English? In Samuel Johnson's original Dictionary of the English Language (1756), reprise had only one definition—and that was as a noun: "The act of taking something in retaliation of injury." The word has come a long way since then. – Sven Yargs Jan 20 '19 at 23:55

There are differences in both frequency and context.

First, reprise is used less often than repeat. Scratch that - reprise is rare.

Second, reprise is usually used in specialized contexts. Honestly, before you had posted this, I've primarily heard the noun as a fencing term, where it describes a renewed attack after an initial attack has failed. Using a Corpus of Contemporary American English search, I realized that the term is used to refer to actors repeating a role. The MW entry may not be clear enough on its own, but this entry from Oxford Dictionaries provides some clarification:

Repeat (a piece of music or a performance)

Music and performance? If you take "performance" to mean an acting role rather than performance in a more generic sense, then this usage makes sense. (Links are to five recent news stories using the word in the headline - all usages point to either an acting or musical performance.)

In short, reprise is far less common and restricted to contexts that are describing the performing arts. Repeat is far more general, and has little (if any) restriction on the actions it can refer to. In your example sentence,

We shall not repeat/reprise our failure last year.

Reprise would only work if y'all were speaking as performers who did not want to repeat your roles because the previous performance last year was a failure. That's a big enough stretch that they shouldn't be treated as interchangeable.

  • I totally agree with you after I read more examples (except that reprise is not so rare if you zoom in the ngram plot). I guess I can use it figuratively, but I'm unsure about that. For example, "the general reprised a clever move in the second battle." – xuhdev Jan 21 '19 at 1:17

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