• hurdy-gurdy •
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. A medieval stringed instrument played by cranking a wheel that rotates beneath a row of strings, then depressing keys to bring the strings in contact with the wheel. 2. A barrel organ, which is also played by turning a crank.
Notes: The nitty-gritty of the hurdy-gurdy is that it is a rhyming compound with a plural, hurdy-gurdies, and not much else in terms of derivative relations. An adjective hurdy-gurdyish has been used a few times to refer to music and to someone who looks like the stereotypical hurdy-gurdy player.
In Play: The unfortunate fact of the matter is that the crank on the hurdy-gurdy lowers it in the esteem of music lovers: "Yes, I consider hip-hop to be music; not as good as hurdy-gurdy music, but music." Its reputation was not enhanced by the barrel organ, often referred to as a hurdy-gurdy in the first half of the 20th century. To hear a bit of hurdy-gurdy music, click here.
Word History: Today's Good Word is another rhyming compound, like willy-nilly, shilly-shally, and Humpty-Dumpty. It probably was influenced by an older word, no longer used, hirdy-girdy "uproar, disorder", a variant of hiddy-giddy "whirling, confusion", itself a corruption of an earlier heady + giddy. Rhyming compounds are always fun; that is why we find so many in English. They also reflect the close relation between language and music, as I point out in the essay linked to rhyming compound above. (Let us not dilly-dally, shilly-shally, or twiddle-twaddle in conveying our gratitude to the person known only as Grogie in the Alpha Agora, who delivered today's Good Word to us lickety-split.)
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