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Vidula, fidula

Fiddle is an older word than violin – there were instruments called fiddles long before violins. Violino, which is Italian for “violin,” is the diminutive form of viola, which until the 1700s was the generic term for any bowed string instrument.  The word viola itself came from the Old French viole, which came from the Provençal viula, which came from the Medieval Latin vidula.

I used to think, as others did, that the word fiddle also came from vidula. Pronounce the V in vidula in the German style, as an F, and, voilà! Vidula becomes fidula, which is awfully close to fiddle. I’ve recently learned, however, that things are probably the other way around. It turns out that the word Fidula is first found in Old
High German in the 9th century, 200 years before the word vidula appears in Medieval Latin. So where did vidula come from? That seems to be a bit of a mystery.

A Minute with Miles is a production of South Carolina Public Radio, made possible by the J.M. Smith Corporation.

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Miles Hoffman is the founder and violist of the American Chamber Players, with whom he regularly tours the United States, and the Virginia I. Norman Distinguished Visiting Professor of Chamber Music at the Schwob School of Music, in Columbus, Georgia. He has appeared as viola soloist with orchestras across the country, and his solo performances on YouTube have received well over 700,000 views.