While writing the page How to tune a guitar I noticed a strange mistake in my English vocabulary: I always thought that the two-pronged metal device to tune musical instruments was called ‘pitchfork’ in English. I wouldn’t have dared to use ‘tuning fork’, thinking that was a sloppy direct translation of Dutch ‘stemvork’ (stemmen = to tune, vork = fork). But today (June 1, 2003), being 48 years old, to my surprise I find that all dictionaries agree that a pitchfork is a farmer’s instrument to manipulate hay. No musical senses are listed. The correct English term is ‘tuning fork’.
Google hits confirm this. I find that the tuning fork was invented in 1711 by John Shore.
One source adds “who jokingly called it a pitchfork”. I suppose this was done as a wordplay with this sense of the word ‘pitch’:
the property of a sound and especially a musical tone that is determined by the frequency of the waves producing it: highness or lowness of sound.(Source: Merriam-Webster 10th edition).
So maybe this is where it comes from. Are the inventor and
myself the only
persons who had this association, or it is more common than that in
Or is there a connection/confusion with ‘pitch-pipe’?
Pitchfork, by the way, says the Concise Oxford Dictionary, was ‘pickfork’ in Middle-English, so it was a fork to pick hay.