Ah, guess I'll cut and paste the history article, just in case the site disappears... (And *I* don't drool when I play!)
History of the name "Jew's Harp" Very little early history is available.
The Jew's harp is known world-wide by many different names, depending on the country of origin. Some examples are:
England - Gewgaw Germany - Maultrommel (which means mouth drum) Japan - Koukin Russia - Vargan Siberia - Khomus Philippines - Kumbing and kubing Italy - Scacciapensieri Norway - munnharpa or munnharpe France - guimbarde Bali - genggong
A Dictionary of Contemporary American Usage (New York 1957), p.259, reports a recent trend:
Jew's Harp (Jews' Harp); juice harp. For over 400 years the instrument ... has been connected in English with the Jew's ... Whether any derogation was originally intended is not known but it is apparently believed that some might now be felt, for the instrument is invariably referred to in radio and television programs as a juice harp. Considering the drooling that often accompanies amateur performances on the thing, this is a fairly ingenious emendation, and considering the fact that it is only on radio and television programs that children hear of the instrument at all any more, the new name is probably better established among the young than the old name, and one more word has undergone one more preposterous change.
Frederick Crane (in VIM #1) says, "To summarize, six words have been discussed as the original form from which the Jew's of Jew's Harp was corrupted: jaw's, jeu, jeugd, gewgaw, giga, gawe. The frequency and dogmatism with which the various etymons have been asserted vary from very great to very little."
For a full story on the etymology of the name Jew's harp, see VIM #1 (Frederick Crane, Editor, address below) for a blow-by-blow account written by Dr. Crane himself.
Gordon Frazier, editor of PLUCK (a newsletter for Jew's harpist -- address below) says in PLUCK #3: "In brief: The earliest known written citation of Jew's harp in 1595, in England. Prior to that it was called Jew's trump (earliest spelling: jewes trump). Before that it was known as trump in Scotland and northern England; the origin of the "jewes" preceder is obscure. However, there is no indication that the origin was connected with Judaism or the Jewish people. It probably came from some other word -- one possibility is the Old English word gewgaw - and was then, many years later, "fixed," resulting in the current form.
Jaw harp is a 20th century creation. It was first suggested as an origin of Jew's harp as pure conjecture - there is no evidence of that name ever being used in common parlance before then. From that point, several different music historians indulged in sloppier and sloppier research, until jawharp as an origin progressed from baseless conjecture to absolute "truth".
Jaw harp, then, is not an invented term intended to be politically correct, but is rather a misnomer brought to life by bad scholarship. In its favor, jawharp is a misnomer of a misnomer - a quirky name for a somewhat quirky instrument.
An informal survey of Jewish friends over the years has yielded mixed reactions to the "Jew's harp". Almost all found it inoffensive, or were puzzled that the question had even been raised; however, the few who did find it offensive objected to it rather strongly.
One said he thought it sounded like a slur invented by Christians, Big Christian harp, little Jew's harp. This is an imaginative yet unfounded theory, but given the abuse that Jews have suffered throughout history, it is an understandable one.
An important fact to consider is that the name Jew's harp in not considered a slur only because of the historic persecution of Jew's. It is also because of the negative image the instrument has endured in the United States. (If, say, French toast were used only for hog feed here, the French might well be insulted by the term).
And even though aficionados of the Jew's harp are aware that in most of the world - perhaps even most especially in Europe -- the instrument has been revered, not reviled, the fact remains that perceptions can be as important as fact. A perceived slur can hurt as much as an intended one.
English is a fluid, flexible, and capricious language. Whether Jew's harp, trump, jawharp, or something else enters popular usage cannot really be dictated. Even if it could, changing language in the name of "correctness" seems a bit Orwellian.
PLUCK will continue to use Jew's harp, as it is still the most common term in use, but when referring to a player of the instrument will use "jawharpist." We will also use whatever name the maker of a particular instrument uses, and use a player's choice in name as well.
The way to combat the perception of the name "Jew's harp" as a slur is not to try to change the language, but to improve the image of the instrument.
We can do that by treating the Jew's harp as a legitimate musical instrument and encouraging others to do the same." Frederick Crane suggests (in VIM #4) changing the name to TRUMP. He says, "If I fancied that I could influence the English vocabulary, I would propose that we return to the Middle Ages, and make a fresh start by calling the instrument trump once more. The word has much to recommend it. It is the oldest known name of the instrument in English, and has an unbroken tradition to the 20th century in Scotland, at least. It is a cousin of the oldest terms in the languages of Europe, such as French trompe, German Trumpel, and Slavic drumla. It isn't likely to be confused with the names of any other instruments, though it does resemble trumpet. And it has a nice, folksy quality to it, quite perfect for the instrument." (See VIM #4 for a complete discussion on this.)
Some interesting historical data Throughout Europe, Asia and the Pacific, except Australia, no pre-Columbian traces have been discovered in the Americas. Until introduced as a trade item by Europeans, none were found on the African continent. It is found everywhere in Russia. Bamboo and wooden lamellate types are found in the Pacific, SE Asia and in China except in Northern China (where the classical form of the Jew's Harp was an iron idioglot lamellate type). Through European colonization, the bow-shaped metal Jew's Harp was introduced into the Americas, Africa and Australia mainly by the Dutch and English for North America. In Siberia and Mongolia, the Jew's Harp was used to both induce trance and to heal the sick. Dr. Franz Anton Mesmer is said to have used the Jew's Harp therapeutically in psychotherapy.
900 Iron Koukins - Found in Japan in 1990 (1000 years old) In those times it has been determined that iron=power (not toys)
before 1399 - Old frames found in Germany. These instruments are often mentioned as the oldest known from Europe, but there are large numbers excavated from earlier dates, some Anglo-Saxon and some Carolingian. Several are claimed to come from the Roman era, but there are those who dispute this.
1500 Jew's harps were a common peddler's goods during the 16th century (as well as earlier and later).
1511 Since 1511, and up till today, the issue of if the Jew's Harp is a chromatic or percussion instrument, still has not been settled. Most recently, Fredrick Crane and Ole Kai Ledang have classified the Jew's Harp as an aerophone. Arguing that full functioning of the instrument occurs only when a stream of air moves past its tongue.
1593 Documents show that on May 8, 1593, a Spanish exploratory party was involved in a transaction of 500 Jew's Harps with the natives of NE South America. ?? In a letter to Richard Bentley, Horace Walpole writes, "This very morning I found that part of the purchase of Maryland from the savage proprietors (for we do not massacre, we are such good Christians as only to cheat) was a quantity of vermillion and a parcel of Jew's Harps!" 1650 "Jew's Harps in the New World throughout the colonial period" The iron works at Saugus, Massachusetts (which is near Boston) were producing Jew's Harps as early as about 1650. The June 24, 1660 Parliament lists them among the products requiring an import rate in the colonies. At the turn of the century, 10 gross of Jew's Harps are found in the inventory of three Dutch New York merchants alone. These instruments are also listed in Virginia newspaper advertisements during the middle of the 18th century (the Virginia Gazette is one example).
1677 One land deed of 1677 lists 100 Jew's Harps among the items given as payment for a tract of Indian land. In fact, the use of Jew's Harps as a barter item with the Indians continued till as late as 1815 and 1820.
About 1745 JEW'S HARP HOUSE was Lond farmhouse converted to a Resort/tavern with tea gardens, a pond and tropball, tennis, skittles. In 1811 it moved location and still operated as a tavern until at least 1827 This building was destroyed in World War II.
1765 During the period from approximately 1765, Austrian composer and organist and one of Beethoven's music teachers, Johann George Alberchtsberger, wrote a number of concerti for the Jew's Harp.
17th and 18th Century Archaeological research uncovers Jew's Harps from Maine to Florida throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. More than 120 have been recovered from one site in Michigan alone. Conclusive evidence of the use of the Jew's Harp is by no means abundant, except for the fact that practically all of the Jew's Harps which have been archaeological finds have been in dis-repair, which means the tongues were broken and missing. Which says, if they were not playing them and were using them only for barter, then the tongues would not have been broken. Breakage means usage.
The majority of the Jew's Harps are found in rubbish heaps and down wells, obviously discarded as useless. Jew's Harps were not only present in the North American colonies, they were being used, and broken, in substantial numbers.
1850 Up until the 1850's, the Jew's Harp attained a remarkable prominence in the musical life of Western Europe.
1890 One great virtuoso Jew's Harpist, was Karl Eulenstein (1802-1890), he died at 88 years old. At 8 years old, he started violin lessons (using his father's violin, who died when Karl was 5). He was very musically gifted and practiced daily. When he reached the age for apprenticeship, he went from a bookbinder, to a merchant, and graduated as a baker ... but his first love was always music.
While working for the merchant, he bought his first Jew's Harp.. He fell in love with the Jew's Harp and practiced in his spare time. During this time, he heard the Jew's Harp virtuoso, Franz Koch (1761-1831), in concert. Franz had a powerful affect on him and he decided he also wanted to be a Jew's Harp virtuoso. A few years later, he heard Kunert, another Jew's Harp virtuoso, and was also greatly influenced by him. Soon, he began to compose his own variations to different songs. He tried to set up his own private concerts, but lacking finances, contacts and public playing experience, he was not successful.
In 1824, he played his first successful concert in Stuttgart, Germany. Soon he became more successful, but always lived near poverty much of the time. He also taught himself to play guitar and was soon becoming well- known throughout Europe for his Jew's Harp mastery. He became recognized as one of the finest players in London ... and played for royalty (such as the Dukes of York, the Duchess of Kent [mother of Queen Victoria], and the King of England). He lost one of his front teeth and with a false tooth, he could not play the Jew's Harp for awhile. He turned to giving guitar lessons for income and was very successful at this for many years. He started playing Jew's Harp again, making a good income. But eventually he lost most of his teeth and had to stop playing Jew's Harp altogether. He married and had three children, living in his native home of Heilbronn until his death. He was truly a great Jew's Harp player and for that reason alone he should never be forgotten. Quote from the HAWK'S EYE (Burlington, Iowa ... June 6, 1844): "Woman is said to be like a Jew's Harp because she is nothing without a tongue and must be pressed to the lips." (added later by the Quarterly Visitor of Washington, Iowa:) "Then she is music for the soul."