Fwd: [Harp-L] Why is a harmonica called a harp?
--- In harp-l-archives@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx, "ZAIS Elliot"
I'm sure there is some interesting history which answers Elizabeth's
question of Thu, 6 Jan 2005 20:59:51 EST Harp-L Digest, Vol 17, Issue
16. However, it doesn't justify replacing the perfectly good name of
our instrument, the harmonica or mouth organ with the perfectly good
name of another, radically different, instrument, the harp.
Your argument is based on a mistaken premise.
The name "harp" is not a replacement for "harmonica."
The instrument was called a harp before it was called a harmonica.
And harmonica was already the name of another instrument.
The first harmonicas were called Aeolina - which refers to a harp
whose strings are excited to sound by wind. Here the reeds replace
strings. Other early harmonicas were called "mundharfe" - mouth-harp.
I'm not sure when the harmonica name was first borrowed to refer to
Meanwhile, the name "harmonica" referred to at least one other
instrument, the most recent of which was the glass harmonica, which
operated by the friction of the fingers against wet glass. Benjamin
Franklin is said to have invented a form of this instrument that
resembeled a treadle-oerated lathe, with several glass discs of
different sizes (and pitches) rotating in a trought of water.
Mouth organ is perhaps the most technically accurate, as free reeds
are also used in organs and harmoniums. But isn't that term better
suited to the melodica which also has a piano-style keyboard in
addition to reeds and breath activation?
(Perhaps calling it a harmonica was suggested by the harmonium -
purely a speculation that just occurred to me.)
Appeals to "tradition", i.e., we've called it a harp for too long to
change, seem to be rather weak arguments. Granted, harmonica is a
long word at four syllables.
Like it or not, all three names (of one, three, and four syllables)
are here to stay, and no argument is likely to dislodge any of them.
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