A dactyl is a unit of poetry consisting of three syllables, the first of which is stressed. The word "poetry" is itself a great example of a dactyl!

When a poem is made up of three-syllable metrical feet, and the emphasis naturally lands on the first syllable of each foot, you call those units dactyls. The Greek root is daktylos, which means "unit of measure" but also "finger." The literary term came from the "finger" meaning — the three bones in a finger represent the three syllables in a dactyl. These lines from Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" are written in dactyls: "Flashed all their sabres bare, / Flashed as they turned in air / Sabring the gunners there."

Definitions of dactyl
  1. noun
    a finger or toe in human beings or corresponding body part in other vertebrates
    synonyms: digit
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    the fifth digit; the little finger or little toe
    any of the terminal members of the hand (sometimes excepting the thumb)
    one of the digits of the foot
    pollex, thumb
    the thick short innermost digit of the forelimb
    forefinger, index, index finger
    the finger next to the thumb
    annualry, ring finger
    the third finger (especially of the left hand)
    middle finger
    the second finger; between the index finger and the ring finger
    little finger, pinkie, pinky
    the finger farthest from the thumb
    big toe, great toe, hallux
    the first largest innermost toe
    a deformed toe which is bent in a clawlike arch
    little toe
    the fifth smallest outermost toe
    type of:
    appendage, extremity, member
    an external body part that projects from the body
  2. noun
    a metrical unit with stressed-unstressed-unstressed syllables
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    type of:
    foot, metrical foot, metrical unit
    (prosody) a group of 2 or 3 syllables forming the basic unit of poetic rhythm
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