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Friday, September 24, 2010

Fiddling about

Symphony orchestras, with their armies of violinists, are back in season. Is their instrument a violin or a fiddle? Both words come possibly from Vitula, the Roman goddess of joy. Vitula became fithele in the Germanic language brought to England by the Anglo-Saxons, viole in the French brought by the Normans, and viola in Italian. In medieval England, the previously honourable pedigree of the Anglo-Saxon “fiddle” was soon under attack from the more prestigious French word, and then even more so from Italian, so highly prestigious in matters musical. So we now have the more formal “violin” and the slightly less formal “fiddle”.

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About Me

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Canada's Word Lady, Katherine Barber is an expert on the English language and a frequent guest on radio and television. She was Editor-in-Chief of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Her witty and informative talks on the stories behind our words are very popular. Contact her at wordlady.barber@gmail.com to book her for speaking engagements; she can tailor her talks to almost any subject. She is also available as an expert witness for lawsuits.