Definition: While this word has several related meanings, the most common is a band of discordant instruments.
Origin: Although supposedly from an 18th century name for radical social reformers in South England (Gallithumpian), it entered into common usage in the USA. It is suspected that this is a word that was ‘made up’ originally – it does not appear to have any deep linguistic roots at all.
Why this word?
This is a word that cannot sit still. It is constantly evolving. As discussed, it was originally the name for a radical political group in the 18th century. By the time it hit America in the 19th century, it came to refer to those who would noisily interrupt something of which they disapproved – be it a political event or even, it is thought, a disapproved wedding. The tradition to interrupt such a wedding involved loud, discordant banging together of pots and pans. Thus, callithumpian evolved into a musical term – the term for which it is now known. Indeed, it has even since undergone yet another evolutionary stage – a ‘Callithump Parade’ is a children’s event where children dress up in outlandish costumes and make a whole lot of noise (a mummery – see earlier entry on unusedwords.com).
How to use this word?
For a word that is still relatively young in linguistic terms (i.e., only coined in the 1790s) and that has no linguistic roots to speak of, callithumpian has been on something of a journey. I would now like to suggest that the journey has ended and that callithumpian has reached its destination. The English language needs a word to describe musical disharmony – be it a band that play out of tune or anything played on the bagpipes. Music journalists of the world rejoice – you have a new word to add to your terrible arsenal of linguistic shaming devices.