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MMD > Archives > November 1997 > 1997.11.06 > 16Prev  Next

Hurdy Gurdy & "Herd o' Gurdies"
By Craig Brougher

Robbie had a good angle about the term Hurdy-Gurdy:

 [ Hmmm.  Which chicken or egg came first?  Did the sailors apply their
 [ term to the hand-cranked instrument, or was it verse-visa?

I'm gonna guess that its separate words came first.  Here's my reasoning.
If I had called a net drum a "Gurdy" after a "Hurdy-Gurdy," it wouldn't
have caught on because Hurdy-Gurdy is a single term, and meaningless when
you take it apart.  The same with the ancient word, "Hurdy." Neither word
means anything if it had been stolen from Hurdy-Gurdy, to my way of
thinking.  Some call it "reminiscent."  Each part of the word has to
remind one of both parts before you can shorten it -- like "razzle-dazzle."
That is often shortened to just "razzle."  But you wouldn't say, "Oh look,
a Gurdy!"

However, when you get lots of Hurdy-Gurdys in a park, all playing at the
same time, some claim to believe they understand where the name comes
from after that experience: "Herd-O-Gurdys."

Now let me posit another question relating obliquely to this trivia:
Where did the term "crank" come from?  As in, "He's just an old crank!"
Or, "He's cranky." 

All the organ grinders I ever saw didn't like kids playing with their
monkey, and ran them away because they didn't have any money, anyway.
The monkey would jump up on the kid's shoulder and the grinders would
yank him down again, unless there were adults around that enjoyed the

And whenever there were just kids and no adults, the grinders would growl
at the kids because they were a bother.  Usually kids who came to the
circus without parents.  You know, no shoes, etc.  Poor kids.  When kids
like that flocked to the organ grinder, then parents with their kids

But grinders got a reputation for being ornery, dishonest, and mean.
Stadium managers would make them go around the corner where the monkey
couldn't pick the customer's pockets before they had bought their
tickets, and the cops were always questioning them about robberies in the
neighborhood!  My folks didn't even want me close to one of those guys.
So around our home town at least, they were highly undesirable.

To me, there was no question why _we_ called them "cranky," but maybe
somebody else has a better explanation.

Craig Brougher

 [ cranky (adjective):
 [ 1. sick, from German "krank".  When you summon an ambulance,
 [      der Krankenwagon carries you away to das Krankenhaus !
 [ 2. irritable ('bent out of shape'), from "crank": something bent
 [      or distorted, like the crank-handle.
 [ In either case, just buy a drink for the organ-grinder, and he is
 [ sure to cheer up!  -- Robbie

(Message sent Thu 6 Nov 1997, 13:47:14 GMT, from time zone GMT.)

Key Words in Subject:  Gurdies, Gurdy, Herd, Hurdy, o

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