in prosody, a foot of two syllables, the first short or unaccented, the second long or accented, 1842, from French iambe (16c.) or directly from Latin iambus "an iambic foot; an iambic poem," from Greek iambos "metrical foot of one unaccented followed by one accented syllable" (see iambic). Iambus itself was used in English in this sense from 1580s. In Greek, the measure was said to have been first used by satiric writers.
[The Iambus] is formed constantly by the proper accentuation of familiar, but dignified, conversational language, either in Greek or English : it is the dramatic metre in both, and in English, the Epic also. When the softened or passionate syllables of Italian replace the Latin resoluteness, it enters the measure of Dante, with a peculiar quietness and lightness of accent which distinguish it, there, wholly from the Greek and English Iambus. [Ruskin, "Elements of English Prosody, for use in St. George's Schools," 1880]
updated on July 11, 2021