By the Musical Way #7


A crotchet is a musical note, often thought to represent a single beat – that’s not always the case, but never mind. It consists of a black blob with a stem going upwards or downwards. I wondered whether its name, ‘crotchet’, had the same derivation as ‘crochet’, the knitting-like pastime? It has, because the word means ‘hook’ in either version, and a crotchet is supposed to look like a hook. Because ‘crotchet’ is a strange and slightly unwieldy name for such a commonly-mentioned note, I looked up its translations to see whether the rest of the world was being more sensible than the Brits in its nomenclature, and I was surprised.

We borrowed it from the French. Maybe the French returned the compliment and called it a ‘hook’ (or un ook). No, they call it ‘noire’ and the Spanish call it ‘negra’. Those seems sensible. Do the Italians do something similar? No again; they go for the hard-to-pronounce ‘semiminima’, and then it gets worse, and worse still. The Americans use the ugly ‘quarter-note’; the Germans, ‘Viertelnote’; the Finns, ‘neljäsosanuotti’; the Poles, ‘ćwierćnuta; the Czechs, ‘čtvrťová nota’; and the Swedes, ‘fjärdedelsnot’. (Look! I’ve found a Swedish crotchet in my handkerchief.’) That’s probably enough.