[Ads-l] mouth organ, harmonicon, harmonica

Mark Mandel markamandel at GMAIL.COM
Tue Jan 19 01:20:06 UTC 2021

In reply to Horatius and to Jonathan Lighter, respectively:


>From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jew's_harp#Etymology
There are many theories for the origin of the name Jew's harp. According to
the Oxford English Dictionary, this name appears earliest in Walter
Raleigh's Discouerie Guiana in 1596, spelled "Iewes Harp". The "jaw"
variant is attested at least as early as 1774[8] and 1809,[9] the "juice"
variant appeared only in the late 19th and 20th centuries.

It has also been suggested that the name derives from the French
"Jeu-trompe" meaning "toy-trumpet".[10] (Though in the French idiom, if two
substantives are joined together, the qualifying noun is invariably the

Both theories—that the name is a corruption of "jaws" or "jeu"—are
described by the OED as "baseless and inept". The OED says that, "More or
less satisfactory reasons may be conjectured: e.g. that the instrument was
actually made, sold, or imported to England by Jews, or purported to be so;
or that it was attributed to Jewish people, suggesting the trumps and harps
mentioned in the Bible, and hence considered a good commercial name."[12]

"Not in OED" (though with the multiple levels of quotation I may be
misinterpreting or misattributing this comment. If it is intended as "OED
does not list 'Jew's-harp' as a sense of "harmonica", I apologize).

It is indeed. In the Compact OED, New Edition, p. 894 (p. 232 in its
original volume of the not-so-compact edition; I can't tell which volume,
but it evidently begins at "interval"):
Jews' harp. (Also sometimes with small j.) A variant of Jews' trump, q.v.]
The first citation is from 1595, "R. Duddely in Hakluyt's Voy, III.576".

Mark A. Mandel

On Mon, Jan 18, 2021, 3:18 AM Horatius <
00000e76b69c74bf-dmarc-request at listserv.uga.edu> wrote:

> And the "Jew's harp" name comes from the fact that the inventor is a Jew?
> Verzonden met ProtonMail Mobile
> -------- Oorspronkelijk bericht --------
> Aan 18 jan. 2021 05:11, Jonathan Lighter schreef:
> > 'Harmonica'
> >
> > 1866: OED
> >
> > 1863 _New-York Herald_ (Dec. 15) 1: The common harmonicon, known to
> > schoolboys as the "mouth organ."
> >
> > ("Harmonicon"; 1876, OED.)
> >
> > There are earlier exx., but they're at least as likely to refer to
> panpipes
> > or even Jew's-harps.
> >
> > II
> >
> > Harmonica
> >
> > 'Jew's-harp'
> >
> > Not in OED.
> >
> > 1825 _Caledonian Mercury_ [Edinburgh) (June 16) 2: The Jews [sic] Harp
> ...
> > A.M. Eulenstein, from Heilbron, has invented a new instrument, or rather
> > improved the little instrument already spoken of, which he calls the
> Mouth
> > Harmonica, on which he has been performing various pieces of music, much
> to
> > the astonishment and delight of numerous private circles.
> >
> > JL

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