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MMD > Archives > January 1997 > 1997.01.30 > 06Prev  Next

"Nickelodeon", "Jukebox", "Honky Tonk"
By Dick Bueschel

It's a matter of interpretation. To my mind, "nickelodeon" is to the coin-operated piano as "jukebox" is to the automatic phonograph. The first names are public jargon, or argot, whereas the second names are what the manufacturers and the industry called their machines.

Which means the dictionaries are wrong, as "nickelodeon" cannot refer to a phonograph in any way. Makers of both products fought the public names hard. Automatic-phonograph makers didn't accept the all-powerful name "jukebox" until over a dozen years after Glenn Miller first used it in public print in Time Magazine in 1939.

The discussion of "nickelodeon" leads to another bit of terminology. What is the meaning, and origin, of "honky-tonk?" Dictionaries and argot collections say it is a type of music, low class and all that.

Baloney! The music they are talking about is "ragtime." But what's the origin? I can't find it anywhere, but I propose that it is a phrase coined by the itinerant piano playing "Professors" who went from saloon to saloon in cutting contests, and who were actually playing New York made and sold Tonk pianos in honky bars, assuming the word Honky (meaning white) is that old. Any thoughts?

Dick Bueschel

[ Editors views:
[ This is a good hot topic for discussion here, along with "how to
[ classify mechanical instruments." Here are my own opinions.
[ 1. American dictionaries do not dictate word usage; they reflect it.
[ To say the dictionary is wrong is denying that people talk this way.
[ Is that really your position?
[ 2. "Nickelodeon" apparently is spoken referring to any entertainment
[ device operated by a coin. This is the general usage. Within the
[ specific context of mechanical music instruments, our society
[ (we collectors) may advocate a more specific meaning.
[ 3. I've heard that turpentine workers in the South relaxed in the
[ "juke joint". The piano in the corner of the lounge was still in
[ its packing box for protection, hence it was the "juke box."
[ 4. One of the cute expressions the Black folk call the White folk is
[ "Honky", from the sound of the white goose. The adjective "honky-
[ tonky" (which adds a like sound) meant something associated with the
[ White folk, such as the oft-pitiable attempts by White bands (who
[ were reading the music) to play the music of the Black bands.
[ I believe that the hit song, "Down in Honky-Tonky Town", was cleverly
[ titled such that each society, Black and White, thought that it
[ referred to the _other_!
[ I now defer to historians such as our member Ed Berlin, who
[ I hope will expand upon "Honky-Tonk" and "Ragtime", and why
[ -- when I'm playing these jolly piano-styles -- I'm called
[ "Perfessor" Robbie Rhodes

(Message sent Thu 30 Jan 1997, 15:07:18 GMT, from time zone GMT-0500.)

Key Words in Subject:  Honky, Jukebox, Nickelodeon, Tonk

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