• ukulele •
yu-kê-lay-lee • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: A small, four-stringed guitar closely associated with Hawaii
Notes: Ukulele presents only one spelling problem, the U in the middle of it. Since it is pronounced [ê] (uh), we don't know what letter represents it. Any letter may be pronounced [ê] in English: imitation [imêtashên], Bermuda [bêrmudê], and ukulele [yukêlaylee]. Remember that it is a U in today's Good Word. This word is a lexical orphan—no related words—and a very young one. Poor thing.
In Play: The ukulele is not held in high esteem by musicians and connoisseurs of music: "Amanda Lynn was on her way to play her ukulele at a party. Along the way she decided to stop for a bite to eat. Then she remembered she had left her ukulele in an unlocked car and rushed back to the parking lot. She was too late: someone had put another ukulele on the back seat."
Word History: Today's Good Word comes from that palm-lined archipelago, Hawaii. The instrument was introduced by the Portuguese, who brought a diminutive, four-stringed guitar called the "machete" along with them. One day the vice-chamberlain of King Kalakaua's court asked to be taught to play it. He learned quickly. The Hawaiians were soon calling him ukulele "leaping flea", because his lively plunking suggested a leaping flea (uku "flea" + lele "jumping"). Soon the instrument itself was being called a "jumping flea". (A tip of the hat and a strum on the old ukulele to Jeremy Busch for suggesting this Good Word from the 50th state.)
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