harpoon and harmonica

Discuss word origins and meanings.

Barb Jungr made harpoon = bandana

Post by odonnell » Thu Jun 10, 2010 2:25 am

I stumbled into this delightful discussion because my totally favorite chansonnieuse, Barb Jungr, mangled the lyrics to "Bobbie McGee" in her recently re-released CD Bare Again. I am American, so the weirdness of studying a Brit's rendition of a song by Kristofferson and Foster is bad enough, but then Ms. Jungr's mother was German and her father Czech, so this nationality stuff is pretty much oozing all around anyway.

So, Ms. Jungr sang, "I put on my harpoon, my dirty red bandana," which as much as I love her singing, is a horribly lame interpretation. Then, "feeling good while Bobby sang the blues" is also a step in the wrong direction. I could have ignored "windscreen wipers" if she hadn't messed up the more important stuff. Surely y'all can figure out a bit of American without having it translated into English?

Anyhow, I brought up my memory of Janis Joplin's version, and found that I just assumed "harpoon" had to be blues harp because it just had to be. I was glad to learn that Bobbie started out female and a sweetie of Kris Kristofferson's and Roger Miller's, but Janis sure made the most of that song.

So I'm sitting here with my new harpoon, the Adagio by Bends, a Brazilian company that is the only source I could find for a harmonica tuned the sweet way (with a low 4th corresponding to the Medieval harmonic 7th from the 5th) that the classic Marine Band was tuned up until the middle 20th century, and of course the German harmonica makers in Brazil decided to keep up the tradition abandoned by the Germans, and next to it is my Jew's harp from Bill (not Bob, alas) Goring of Cove (not Bend) Oregon, which is also the headquarters (or perhaps headeigths for such a small outfit) of the Jew's Harp Guild, of which I am a proud card-carrying member, and which insists that "Jew's Harp" is the correct term, which came somehow out of the blue or the trump or the jeu and has nothing to do with the people of Israel, descendants of Judah or Iaakov or whatever.

And, I'm so tangled with so many of the different tangential tentacles of this discussion that I'm way overthesaurusing and I'd better get back to preparing for my summer job as the first singing gondolier in a genuine gondola made in Venezia, but deployed in Gary Indiana, and PLEASE MAKE ME STOP
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Re: harpoon and harmonica

Post by HHHPUZZLES » Thu Jun 10, 2010 2:58 pm

I don't know the answer to the harpoon/harmonica question but I do want publicly to applaud Ken Greenwald for his diligent linguistic research. As a new comer to WORDWIZARD, I am very impressed with the level of etymological research that Mr. Greenwald has done. Ken, you did one whale of a job! (Pun intended.)
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Re: harpoon and harmonica

Post by Bobinwales » Thu Jun 10, 2010 3:10 pm

HHHPUZZLES, or can I call you H for short? Ken is quite amazing, his library must be vast and his patience and skills even more so. I have always been full of admiration.
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Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: harpoon and harmonica

Post by HHHPUZZLES » Thu Jun 10, 2010 7:02 pm

Thank you, Bob, for your reply. Everyone seems amazing in this group. I love words and this is definitely the place to be if a person is intensely devoted to etymology and puns.

And yes, please do call me H. It is always nice to be on a first initial basis!

"H"
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Re: harpoon and harmonica

Post by christinecornwall » Thu Jun 10, 2010 10:35 pm

Without having read this thread, I would have thought the term 'harpoon' a slang for a syringe. I have no basis, except that the performers involved seemed heavily entrenched in the drug culture. I did not think of the writers involved and their immense contribution!
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Re: harpoon and harmonica

Post by Bobinwales » Fri Jun 11, 2010 9:42 am

"I pulled my old harpoon out of my dirty red bandanna, and I played soft while Bobby sang the blues".

I used to play blues myself, and often sessioned with someone on "blues harp", I just always assumed that either harp was short for harpoon, or Kristofferson need two syllables.

But it is a very long thread to read again. Sunday afternoon with a nice cup of coffee sounds about right.
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Signature: All those years gone to waist!
Bob in Wales

Re: harpoon and harmonica

Post by HHHPUZZLES » Fri Jun 11, 2010 2:32 pm

I realize that "harpoon" is a synonym for "harmonica" but wouldn't it have been a wonderful stroke of genius if that particular word choice had been an intentional malaprop instead? Oh, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, where are you when we need you?
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Re: harpoon and harmonica

Post by trolley » Fri Jun 11, 2010 4:22 pm

I’m surprised this debate still has legs, and I don’t mean just on this site. It’s been kicked about since this song first came out. It is a harmonica. I don’t think harp is an abbreviation of harpoon. I suspect it happened the other way around (is there a word for the opposite of abbreviate?) Harps, mouth harps, blues harps, French harps (made in Germany?), gob irons, tin sandwich, harpoons. These are harmonicas. American Country Music Hall of Famer Charlie McCoy is a harmonica virtuoso and wrote a song in the early sixties called “Harpoon Man”. This was before Bobby McGee and he wasn’t singing about Queequeg or some junkie. I couldn’t find the lyrics or an audio recording by Charlie but I found a UK band on Youtube called The Harpoon Blues Band who do a pretty rocking rendition of Harpoon man.
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Re: harpoon and harmonica

Post by Shelley » Mon Jun 14, 2010 9:11 pm

trolley wrote:. . . (is there a word for the opposite of abbreviate?) . . .
Lengthen, elongate, hmm . . . embellish, expand, pad . . .

You may have put an end to the dispute, trolley -- at least in my mind. But the image of "pulling" a hypodermic needle after tying off a vein with "my dirty red bandana" is pretty vivid and hard to dispel.
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Re: harpoon and harmonica

Post by zmjezhd » Mon Jun 14, 2010 9:22 pm

Augment?
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Re: harpoon and harmonica

Post by trolley » Tue Jun 15, 2010 4:06 am

Well if it wasn't a harmonica, what exactly was being blown (sadly, or otherwise) after it was pulled out in the cab of that big rig?
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Re: harpoon and harmonica

Post by Morrisstarkey » Tue Dec 28, 2010 1:35 am

I was watching The Ralph Emery show tonight on RFDTV and his guest was Charley McCoy, perhaps the best living harmonica player today. (Google him and see what all he has done.) Ralph asked him why the harmonica was called a harpoon. Charley said that he and Kris Kristofferson were on the same label many, many years ago and Charley made up the term "harpoon" and even made an album called "Harpoon Man" Before Kris's use of the term in "Me and Bobby McGee". Charley simply stated during the interview with Ralph that Kris "borrowed " the term from him when he wrote "M&BM." Take it for what it is worth.
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Re: harpoon and harmonica - an ancient "harponist"

Post by odonnell » Tue Dec 28, 2010 2:24 am

It seems that Israel Pouron, in 17th century Stockholm, was known as a "harponist" because he played stringed harps:

http://www.tabulatura.com/POURFRA.HTM

I doubt very much that this ancient term had any influence on the 20th century "harpoon" with free reeds instead of strings, but it's a fun connection.

From the ridiculous to the ridiculouser: Mr. Pouron was particularly known for playing the arpanetta, a sort of double psaltery, which surely had nothing to do with the 20th century Advanced Research Projects Agency of the US Department of Defense, and its Arpanet prototype of the Internet.

Mike O'Donnell
http://people.cs.uchicago.edu/~odonnell/Fun/
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Re: harpoon and harmonica

Post by Edwin F Ashworth » Tue Dec 28, 2010 10:38 pm

Perhaps the harpoon is the silent member of the harmonica family.
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Re: harpoon and harmonica

Post by Erik_Kowal » Wed Dec 29, 2010 1:06 am

So Harpoon Marx was the silent Marx brother..?
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