[Ads-l] Kazoo and Bazooka

Peter Reitan pjreitan at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon May 1 15:58:09 EDT 2017

I recently mentioned kazoo and bazooka in a thread about made up words.


I believe that both words are derived, or influenced by, the slang word, "bazoo."

In the late-1800s, to "toot" or "blow" one's "bazoo" was to brag.  "Bazoo" also referred to any wind instrument, especially when loud or poorly played.  A man named Warren Frost appears to have coined the word "kazoo" when he patented his version of what we now call a kazoo in 1882.  "Kazoo" went viral in 1884, when someone appears to have started manufacturing and marketing them in mass quantities.

Barry Popik posted the earliest example of "kazoo" from July 1884 in 2002.


Apart from the patent, which was filed in 1882, I found one apparently unrelated use of "kazoo" from a book that appears to have been written in 1882.

In the context of the book, the word referred to an extended binge or protracted party weekend:

“Kazoo’s new, isn’t it?” says he. “What’s a kazoo?”

“Oh, a regular bump.” Says Whopper.

“A ‘reeling ripe,’ you know,” says Mixer.

“A protracted bust,” murmurs Little Jake, persistently ignoring the renewed emptiness of the glasses, though it is emphatically his turn.

O. N. Looker (pseudonym), Naughty New York, or, The Apron Strings Relaxed: a Novel of the Period; being a truthful narrative of a weeks jollification of three young benedicts, New York, American News Co., 1982, page 12.

A man named Bob Burns coined "bazooka" for a home-made trombone of his own invention in 1918.  The hand-held Army rocket launcher of the same name was named for its similarity to Bob Burns' bazooka.  It was already called a bazooka when it was first hinted at in print, when reporters were given a demonstration of a number of secret weapons:

"There is one weapon which, with typical Yankee impudence, already has been nicknamed the “Bazooka,” because of its resemblance to Comedian Bob Burns’ famous musical instrument."

Detroit Free Press, January 1, 1943.

But Gazooka had been a word for at least a decade before, and the word "Bazooka" even showed up as the name of a large fish as early as 1904, so Burns could have named his instrument after "bazoo" and "kazoo" or borrowed the word from its earlier sense, or been influenced by several things.

I put a bunch of information - probably too much information - in a blog post:


The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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