or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Saturday, July 09, 2005


Sometimes you're idly wondering about the provenance of a word and the look of it leads you astray.

I was listening to Pete Townshend on the iPod and my favourite song from Empty Glass, "And I Moved", was playing. The orchestration is wonderful, mostly drums and synthesizers backing a snowstorm of glittery piano arpeggios. And so of course I started wondering about the word "arpeggio" (which means the notes of a chord played in sequence rather than simultaneously). Obviously Italian, but I was sidetracked by the English language's propensity to sandwich the meat of a word between a prefix and a suffix, so I ignored the first two and last two letters and tried to find some meaning in the "-pegg" syllable, to no avail.

When I got home and looked it up, I realized how much I had been deceived (and how little I know of Italian): "arp-" is the key to the word, because it is from exactly the same (Germanic) word as our "harp". And knowing this, the whole thing became clear: an arpeggio is named after the harp ("arpeggio" comes from "arpeggiare", "to play the harp") because on that instrument, the strings are plucked one at a time, and so the notes of a chord must be played one after the other.


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