Possible origins of "hurdy gurdy"

Discussion in 'Etymology, History of languages and Linguistics (EHL)' started by inauspicious_gentleman, Jan 1, 2013.

  1. inauspicious_gentleman New Member

    Ottawa, Ohio, U.S.A.
    English - United States
    I play the hurdy gurdy, a medieval musical instrument, but I don't exactly know where the name comes from. One explanation given me by another musician was that "hurdy gurdy" meant "shaking bottom" in Shakespearean slang, which makes sense given the instrument's history as a dance instrument. Can someone shed some light on the subject?
     
  2. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

    Last edited: Jan 1, 2013
  3. inauspicious_gentleman New Member

    Ottawa, Ohio, U.S.A.
    English - United States
    Are there any contextual uses of the term outside of referring to the instrument?
     
  4. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

    There are many more references to hurly burly: a disorderly outburst or tumult, and my guess is that Ms. Buys was thinking of that.

    You might expect this to also be a variant of hirly-girly, but Online Etymology Dictionary has it as:
    Seems like a hodge-podge to me.
     
  5. inauspicious_gentleman New Member

    Ottawa, Ohio, U.S.A.
    English - United States
    It is interesting that Ambrose Bierce used "Hurdy-Gurdy" as the title of a fictitious place where numerous atrocities occurred in his cryptic prose, "A Holy Terror". That seems to be more in keeping with hurdy gurdy meaning "uproar or confusion", though it is mainly circumstantial evidence pointing toward that definition, since the term appears to have originated much earlier. It would be great to find a much earlier example of the word being used that way.
     
  6. inauspicious_gentleman New Member

    Ottawa, Ohio, U.S.A.
    English - United States
    Nice work, Gramman. That's closer to what I was looking for. I was really rooting for the "shaking bottom" meaning, and I found another circumstantial bit of information about The People's Revolt of 1381, with which Wat Tyler's rebellion is associated, that might lean that way. I got this tidbit from a Tony Robinson documentary entitled, The Great Rising of 1381: The revolt started in Essex as a reaction against the harsh enforcement of a poll tax issued by the ruling authorities. Commissioners were sent to find and penalize tax evaders, and to collect outstanding taxes. One of the initial reasons people rebelled was in reaction to the the methods used by the commissioners to reach their objective. They would reach up young womens' skirts to find out if they were virgins or not, for those who consummated the carnal act were likely married and eligible for taxation. Literally, they were shaking the bottoms of Essex' good women to get money, which would of course cause tumult and disorder amongst the peasantry. Perhaps it is a stretch to connect this to my original definition, but I can see how this occurrence might have led to the term having both connotations in the common vernacular. In any case, it is the kind of unbelievable, gritty story that would stick in people's minds for generations. As a side note, it is interesting that the slang phrase, "shake down", meaning to extort money by force, originated as early as 1490-1500 (according to dictionary.com), within 100 years of the revolt, which evidences that people soon after began relating the forceful seizure of money to the act of "shaking", at least in the context of the people's vernacular.
     
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2013
  7. PaulQ

    PaulQ Senior Member

    UK
    English - England
    OED

    This is the earliest record.


    For such questions I recommend the etymology forum on this site.
     
  8. gramman

    gramman Senior Member

    I appreciate the thanks, but my post #4 was indeed a hodge-podge … of hurly gurly, not hurdy gurdy.

    I must now watch my beloved Badgers as they attempt to overcome an early score by the dreaded Cardinal.
     

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