1868, earlier alla capella (1824), from Italian, "in the style of Church music, in the manner of the chapel," literally "according to the chapel," from cappella "chapel" (see chapel). Originally in reference to older church music (pre-1600) which was written for unaccompanied voices; applied 20c. to unaccompanied vocal music generally. Italian a is from Latin ad "to, toward; for; according to" (see ad-); alla is a la "to the." Sometimes in the Latin form a capella.
Also denoting "that instruments are to play in unison with the voices, or that one part is to be played by a number instruments." ["Chambers's' Encyclopaedia," 1868]
You are not the first person puzzled by the expression "A Capella," or, at any rate, unable to understand it should signify the exact reverse of what it literally does signify. The chorales in oratorios were invariably accompanied, either by double-bass or the whole band. Hence they were, with perfect correctness, said to be performed "a capella." But, as other chorales, sung as part of the church service, were written in the same and simple style the expression "a capella" came in time to be applied to them also, despite their being sung without any instrumental accompaniment whatever. [The Music World, Sept. 11, 1875]
"feeling of having previously experienced a present situation," 1903, from French déjà vu, literally "already seen." The phenomenon also is known as promnesia. Similar phenomena are déjà entendu "already heard" (of music, etc.), 1965; and déjà lu "already read" (1960).
1869; Englishing of vers libre.
But it is possible that excessive devotion to rhyme has thickened the modern ear. The rejection of rhyme is not a leap at facility; on the contrary, it imposes a much severer strain upon the language. When the comforting echo of rhyme is removed, success or failure in the choice of words, in the sentence structure, in the order, is at once more apparent. Rhyme removed, the poet is at once held up to the standards of prose. Rhyme removed, much ethereal music leaps up from the word, music which has hitherto chirped unnoticed in the expanse of prose. [T.S. Eliot, "Reflections on Vers libre," New Statesman, 3 March 1917]
cartoon mouse character created 1928 by U.S. animator Walt Disney (1901-1966). As an adjective meaning "small and worthless, petty, inconsequential" it was in use by 1951, perhaps from the popularity of the cheaply made Mickey Mouse wristwatch; it was used by 1935 in reference to mediocre dance-band music, based on the type of tunes played as background in cartoon films.
also primadonna, 1782, "principal female singer in an opera," from Italian prima donna "first lady," from Latin prima, fem. of primus "first" (see prime (adj.)) + domina "lady" (see dame). Extended meaning "temperamental person" is attested by 1834.
The erroneous form premadonna (or pre-madonna) is attested from at least 1950s and increasingly after 1990s. Not to be confused with the adjective pre-Madonna (by 1991), in reference to popular music before the rise to stardom of Madonna (Madonna Louise Ciccone), c. 1985.
late 14c., translating Latin artes liberales; the name for the seven attainments directed to intellectual enlargement, rather than immediate practical purpose, and thus deemed worthy of a free man (liberal in this sense is opposed to servile or mechanical). They were divided into the trivium — grammar, logic, rhetoric (see trivial) — and the quadrivium — arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy. Explained by Fowler (1926) as "the education designed for a gentleman (Latin liber a free man) & ... opposed on the one hand to technical or professional or any special training, & on the other to education that stops short before manhood is reached."
The study of [the classics] is fitly called a liberal education, because it emancipates the mind from every narrow provincialism, whether of egoism or tradition, and is the apprenticeship that every one must serve before becoming a free brother of the guild which passes the torch of life from age to age. [James Russell Lowell, "Among my Books"]