Definitions

from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 4th Edition

  • n. A farewell or final appearance, action, or work.
  • n. The beautiful legendary song sung only once by a swan in its lifetime, as it is dying.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License

  • n. A final performance or accomplishment, especially one before retirement.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • n. a final performance or effort (especially before retirement)

Etymologies

From the belief that the swan sings as it dies.
(American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition)
A calque of German Schwanenlied(from Schwan + Lied) or Schwanengesang[2]; from the belief that the mute swan sings before dying. (Wiktionary)

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  • Trumpeter's tune?

    September 25, 2009

  • Swans sing before they die - 'twere no bad thing
    Should certain persons die before they sing.
    Samuel Taylor Coleridge

    March 13, 2008

  • The phrase "Swan song" is a reference to an ancient belief that the Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) is completely mute during its lifetime, except for singing a single, heartbreakingly beautiful song just before it dies.

    It has been known since antiquity that this belief is false. In A.D. 77. Pliny the Elder refuted it in Natural History (book 10, chapter xxxii: olorum morte narratur flebilis cantus, falso, ut arbitror, aliquot experimentis, "observation shows that the story that the dying swan sings is false").

    By extension, swan song has become an idiom referring to a final theatrical or dramatic appearance, or any final work or accomplishment.

    _Wikipedia

    February 2, 2008