Etymology of Xylophone

A xylophone is a musical instrument with wooden bars. It is played through the use of small wooden mallets. Sometimes a difficult word to say out loud, it sounds something like zahy-luh-fohn.

According to Percussion Instruments and Their History by James Blades, the xylophone in its rudimentary form originated from primitive men and was one of the very first melodic instruments. Apparently, historical references seem to indicate that it existed in many places in Africa and Asia.


Xylophone is a combination of the English words xylo (of wood) and phone. Xylo comes from the Greek xylon, which means wood. Phone comes from the Greek phone (φωνή). Φωνή comes from the Proto-Indo-European *bʰeh₂- (to speak).

There are a number of words in the English language that start with xylo, such as xylocarp, a fruit with a hard wooden pericarp, or xylograph (an engraving in wood). Other words that start with xylo include xyloid, xylose and xylotomy.

This word first appeared in the late 19th century in the orchestra. More specifically, between 1865 and 1870.


Bailey, N and Thomas Cox. 1727. The Universal Etymological English Dictionary. 1st ed. London: Printed for T. Cox, at the Lamb, under the Royal-Exchange.

Blades, James. 2005. Percussion Instruments And Their History. 1st ed. Wesport, Conn.: Bold Strummer.

Oswald, John, John Miller Keagy, Joseph Thomas, and James Lynd. 1868. An Etymological Dictionary Of The English Language. 1st ed. Philadelphia: E.C. & J. Biddle.

Stevenson, Angus and Maurice Waite. 2011. Concise Oxford English Dictionary. 1st ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.