Ooh, Interesting! Fascinating Facts - How the Cello got its Name

September 23, 2016

This week, Ooh, Interesting! Fascinating Facts explores the cello. We’ve explored the instrument before when it came to taking it to another country, but this time we’re focusing on its rather interesting name. What could be interesting about it? That would be telling… But read on and you’ll certainly find out!

The cello is a relatively large instrument – one might even think of it as a massive violin – but did you know that the cello isn’t even its full name? The word ‘cello’ is merely an abbreviation of the word ‘violoncello’. If you don’t speak Italian then at a stretch, you might think the name means ‘violin cello’ but you’d be wrong. When translated literally, it means ‘little big viola’. Confused? Don’t be!

You see, the cello (or maybe we should call it a violoncello to be true to its full name?) is in fact a small version of another instrument, which is known as a violone. If you’ve never heard one of those then you’re not alone; only a few players around the world specialise in this instrument and the closest you’re going to get hear one in an ordinary setting is by listening to a double bass (which combines features of both the viol and the violin families).

Not only is the cello a small version of the violone, but a violone is also a large type of viola. Hence ‘little big viola’. We admit they could have just gone with ‘small violone’ but where’s the fun in that? With the ‘violoncello’ all too often truncated down to ‘cello’ in modern times, the name of the instrument often had an apostrophe sitting in front of the ‘c’. This abbreviation has fallen by the wayside in recent years – much like the Waterstones apostrophe – and as such, we’re left with the cello being called the cello!

So although you might think The Massive Violins have a hilarious name (and they do!) it’s actually rooted in history. Ooh, Interesting!



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By Henry Fosdike