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noun Music.
  1. the downward stroke of a conductor's arm or baton indicating the first or accented beat of a measure.
  2. the first beat of a measure.
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  1. gloomy or depressing; pessimistic: Hollywood movies seldom have downbeat endings.
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Origin of downbeat

1875–80; down1 + beat (noun)
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for downbeat


  1. music the first beat of a bar or the downward gesture of a conductor's baton indicating thisCompare upbeat
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  1. informal depressed; gloomy
  2. informal relaxed; unemphatic
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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for downbeat

1876 (n.), in reference to downward stroke of a conductor's baton; 1952 (adj.) in figurative sense of "pessimistic," but that is probably via associations of the word down (adv.), because the beat itself is no more pessimistic than the upbeat is optimistic.

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper