The Bazooka

5 Jul

Here’s an interesting word origin, from April 1918 Popular Science magazine.

A Bazooka Is a Musical Wimwam

Things are not what they seem. This observation of Longfellow’s is borne out by the mysterious looking instrument in the hands of the soldier boy in our picture. It may look to you like a cross between a plumber’s sign and an opium pipe or almost anything else, but it isn’t. You will learn the truth  the next time you visit a cantonment. You will learn that this queer-looking object is a musical instrument christened the “Bazooka.” How does it sound? Just as it looks. If you know anything about plumbing or steam-fitting you will at least admire the bazooka as a good piece of pipe-fitting. The rookies are exceedingly proud of this weird noise-producer.

Some comments on etymology from “Take Our Word For It” column:

From Don Mills:

    I am interested in the origin of the word bazooka.  Was it started by the inventor of the bazooka?

It appears so.  Bob Burns was a popular American radio personality of the 1930s and 40s.  He read comic monologues and peppered them with blasts from his bazooka, an instrument that was similar to a trombone and constructed from twoThe “Ikea” bazooka – some assembly required. gas pipes and a whiskey funnel.  The OED thinks that he got the name from bazoo, a form of kazoo that first turns up in writing in 1877.  By 1943 soldiers had taken to using Mr. Burns’ word for their anti-tank rocket throwers.  Now most people don’t remember the instrument but immediately think of the weapon.  The Encarta College Dictionary does not even list the instrument meaning and gives a “?” for the word’s etymology.

Interestingly, William and Mary Morris, in their Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins printed a portion of a letter from a gentleman in Arkansas claiming that the original bazooka was an agricultural device used for hand-planting small seeds.  We have yet to see  evidence to support this seemingly fanciful story.

While ‘researching’ (i.e. a quick google) I discovered another bit of trivia on Wikipedia:

RPG is an initialism from the Russian language РПГ or ручной противотанковый гранатомёт (transliterated as “ruchnoy protivotankovy granatomyot”), meaning “hand-held anti-tank grenade launcher”. Thus, “rocket-propelled grenade” is a backronym.


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