Pandora’s banjo

Banjo

Last night a friend asked me about the origins of the word banjo. I wasn’t sure, so I did some investigating and discovered that banjo comes from the word bandore as pronounced by African slaves – ban’jōre, ban’jō.

A bandore (/bænˈdɔə(r)/ /ˈbændɔə(r)/) is “a musical instrument resembling a guitar or lute, with three, four, or six wire strings, used as a bass to the cittern.” and arrived in English from the Spanish ban’durria / ban’dola or the Portuguese bandurra, which come from the Latin pandūra, from the Greek πανδοῦρα [Source].

A Greek πανδοῦρα (pandoura) was a kind of lute with three strings, and the word was used for other lute-type instruments. It possibly developed from and got it’s name from a type of Sumerian plucked lute known as a pantur (lit. “small bow”). There is also theory that the Greek πανδοῦρα came from or was influenced by Ancient Egyptian instruments.

The πανδοῦρα became popular among the Romans, especially during the first centuries AD and among the common people – members of ‘polite’ society apparently considered it a vulgar instrument suitable only for taverns, frivolity, low merry-making and popular music. [source]

The name Pandora (Πανδώρα) isn’t related to πανδοῦρα, as far as I can discover, and comes from the Greek words πᾶν “all” and δῶρον (gift), and means “all-gifted” or “all-endowed” [source]. I couldn’t resist using it as a punning title though.

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This entry was posted in Etymology, French, Greek, Language, Latin, Words and phrases.

7 Responses to Pandora’s banjo

  1. D.Jay says:

    And there is the Russian/Ukrainian bandura, as well.

  2. TJ says:

    in some colloquial Arabic dialects, Bandora (or Banadora) means Tomato. I think it is also related to or derived from some Romantic language, but I’m not sure which. The usual and standard name for Tomatoes is [T’amát’im].

  3. d.m.falk says:

    Just to skew things a bit, Pandora’s Box could be seen a box of “gifts”, including the last one, the gift of hope… :) So the origin of terms could indeed be related.

    @TJ – And just so you know, “tomato” also doesn’t come from a romance language, as the fruit’s origins are in North and Central America, the same as with “tobacco”, also a native crop from the Americas.

    d.m.f.

  4. TJ says:

    Excellent! :)
    I read somewhere (can’t remember where) that “tomato” means “apple of love”. I wonder if this is true?

  5. Simon says:

    TJ – tomatoes were once called “apples of love” because they were thought to be an aphrodisiac. The word tomato comes from the Nahuatl tomatl (“the swelling fruit”), from tomana (to swell).

  6. lukas says:

    TJ, in Italian, tomatoes are called pomodori. That could have been loaned into Arabic as bandora.

  7. members of ‘polite’ society apparently considered it a vulgar instrument suitable only for taverns, frivolity, low merry-making and popular music.

    So, even in ancient times, the banjo was associated with “rednecks”;)