Jew's harp

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The word harp is often applied to a wide variety of instruments in English, including many (such as this one) that are not "harps" in the most specific sense. The origin of Jew's is uncertain. Some have connected it to the Cleveland dialectical gew-gaw, related to the Old Norse giga (compare modern Swedish giga)[1]. Others have suggested it derives from an early English or German word jue or jaws. [2] The synonym jaw harp may have therefore come first. Other theories point to French jeu (play), perhaps from jeu-trump (a trump, or toy, with which to play). It is widely accepted that the instrument has no musicological or etymological connection to the Jews, but the word was probably capitalized due to the mistaken belief of a connection.


Jew's harp ‎(plural Jew's harps)

  1. A musical instrument consisting of a flexible metal or bamboo “tongue” attached to a frame. This tongue is placed in the performer’s mouth and plucked with the finger to produce a note of constant pitch. Melodies can be created by changing the shape of the mouth and causing different overtones.
Jew’s harp
A modern jew’s harp

Derived terms[edit]




  1. ^ Folk-Etymology. Pg. 195.
  2. ^ 2014. Inner Asia and the Spatial Politics of Empire. William Honeychurch. Pg. 19.