Foto: Tim Hynes .
"Didgeridoo" is usually considered to be an onomatopoetic word of Western invention, but it has been said that it may be derived from the Irish words dúdaire or dúidire, meaning variously 'trumpeter; constant smoker, puffer; long-necked person, eavesdropper; hummer, crooner' and dubh, meaning "black" (or duth, meaning "native"). It is alleged that upon seeing the instrument played for the first time, a British army Officer turned to his Gaelic aide and asked "What's that?", to which the aide bemusedly replied, "dúdaire dubh," meaning 'black piper.' However, this is unlikely as the Irish word for a black person is actually fear gorm (literally "blue person").
The earliest occurrences of the word in print include the Australian National Dictionary 1919, The Bulletin in 1924 and the writings of Herbert Basedow in 1926. There are numerous names for this instrument among the Aboriginal people of northern Australia, with yirdaki one of the better known words in modern Western society. Yirdaki, also sometimes spelt yidaki, refers to the specific type of instrument made and used by the Yolngu people of north-east Arnhem Land. In Western Arnhem Land, mago is used, although it refers specifically to the local version. Many believe that it is a matter of etiquette to reserve tribal names for tribal instruments, though retailers and businesses have been quick to exploit these special names for generic tourist-oriented instruments.
Researched by Toby Beaglehole