Dictionary of Phonographia

Words and phrases with connections to the Phonograph (1)


album - noun

"A phonograph record or set of records containing a collection of musical selections or sounds ususally stored in a book designed to hold records or in its own packaging for a single record."

Early disc records only had one song per record, however, the discs could be stored in "albums" that had multiple pages (record sleeves). These early record albums resembled photograph albums which is appropriate since phonograph records capture sound just as photographs capture pictures.

78 rpm album ca. 1910


Later record albums had multiple songs on one long-playing (LP) record but these LPs continued to be called albums since it was still a collection of music. These early album "books" were usually undecorated and sometimes were stamped on the spine with a letter of the alphabet to help organize multiple albums in the record cabinet.

Record album art began in the 1940's and often featured photographs and graphic art related to the recording artist or illustrated a theme of the album.


45 rpm multiple record tote ca. 1962


Beatles' LP 1967

Record album art essentially ended in the late 1980's with the popularity of Compact Discs (CDs) (although CDs had reduced sized "cover" graphics for their jewel case packaging).

The art on record albums will always give records an identity and a place in recorded music history even if physical albums disappear in the future.



"as a matter of record"

This phrase is a double entendre using "Record" is as a noun meaning "an account in writing or the like preserving the memory or knowledge of facts or events." With the invention of the phonograph, the preservation of facts and aural events could be made using records. The example used here is from a circa 1925 Valentine's Day card.



"canned music"

Phrase of derision said to have originated from John Philip Sousa's article in Appelton's Magazine in April 1906 where Sousa stated that the canned music of the talking machine was "going to ruin the artistic development of music in this country. When I was a boy...in front of every house in the summer evenings, you would find young people together singing the songs of the day or old songs. Today you hear these infernal machines going night and day. We will not have a vocal cord left. The vocal cord will be eliminated by a process of evolution, as was the tail of man when he came from the ape."

Circa 1904 Edison cylinder record stored in cylinder box, similiar to an early 1900 can of baking powder.


elevator music

Recorded music transmitted originally by wires to commercial establishments like retail stores, restaurants and even elevators to be played as background music. Muzak was the tradename for a company that came to be dominant in this business and ultimately Muzak became a generic term for background music. Muzak or "elevator music" is another form of canned music that Sousa probably would have railed against both for the quality of selections but also for its pervasiveness (e.g, air pollution in the aural sense).



factola - noun

A fact related to talking machines, phonographia and recorded sound that is known through evidence and proven to be true.

Etymology - Combination of 16th century English definition of "fact" and suffix "-ola" (which was used in naming over 80 talking machine brands in the 20th century, e.g,. Victrola, Carola, Graphonola, etc.). The "-ola" as a suffix associated with recorded music and talking machines originates from the Aeolian Company's 1898 "pianola" player piano named for the piano and the "viola" instrument.

Phonographia's Factolas are simple fun facts about talking machines and records. The term was created by Friends of the Phonograph and the list of Factolas includes popular culture words, phrases and facts with connections to the phonograph.



field recording

Term used for an audio recording produced outside a recording studi which applies to recordings of both natural and human-produced sounds. - Wikipedia

Field recording can be traced back to Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville using his phonautograph – the world’s first patented recording device - to capture 18 seconds of the words“Au Clair de la Lune” on April 9th, 1860.

In 1889 an eight year old Ludwig Karl Koch – the “Master of Nature’s Music,” as he would become known – used his father’s wax cylinder recorder to capture the first documented form of non-human sound: the song of a Common Shama bird. In doing so Koch accidentally invented the notion of preserving sound as a form of archaeology, creating an object that could be stored for future generations". - Jack Needham, Red Bull Music Academy Daily, March 24, 2017 (2)

"Field recordings" may also refer to simple monaural or stereo recordings taken of musicians in familiar and casual surroundings, such as the ethnomusicology recordings pioneered by John Lomax, Nonesuch Records, and Vanguard Records. Wikipedia



flipside - noun

The opposite side of something is the flip side. In phonographia, this is often called the B-side as the A-side of a 45 RPM was normally the hit recording and the reason for purchasing the record.

Phonograph 33 1/3 and 78 RPM records were also labeled Side A and Side B although like 45's they might not say Side A but rather would have a number on the label followed by the A or B, e.g., 83234A. For multi-record albums there could also be Side C and Side D, etc.



flexi disc - noun

(also known as a phonosheet, Sonosheet or Soundsheet, a trademark) is a phonograph record made of a thin, flexible vinyl sheet with a molded-in spiral stylus groove, and is designed to be playable on a normal phonograph turntable (Wikipedia definition). Flexible records were inserted into magazines (like the Mad Magazine example below, given away as promotional ads, included with toys and dolls, given to employees and a host of other creative uses. Examples are courtesy of Michael Cumella, WFMU and the wonderful website: The Internet Museum of Flexi/Cardboard/Oddity Records Records Records. GO there and learn more about these playable records that are a fun part of the phonograph's history.




Friends of the Phonograph (FOTP)

FOTP is a society that celebrates the legacy and wonder of the phonograph and recorded sound. Friends annually celebrate the birthday of Edison's Phonograph on December 6. Begun as a family event circa 1977 there was no official name until two charter members of the Emeryville-Oakland-Berkeley phonograph birthday party group created a wooden sign in 1988 featuring Nipper and the painted words "Friends of Phonography".

In 1990 the name was revised to Friends of the Phonograph. Despite a revision to the name this sign is annually hung at Friends of the Phonograph birthday parties.The name became a website in 2001 (friendsofthephonograph.org).

Debbie Cooper and Joellen Lippett holding original sign at the Phonograph's birthday party in 1988




Golden Record

In 1977, one-hundred years after the invention of the Phonograph, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 were launched. On the outside of each was attached a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth - essentially a "message in a bottle" and "Greetings from Earth".

Now travelling in interstellar space these phonograph records remarkably could end up outliving humanity itself.

Voyager's Golden Record cover




Originally the name by which Emile Berliner's disc talking machine was known, it became a generic term to denote any disc playing talking machine, but fell out of use in the United States - Glossary, Discovering Antique Phonographs 1877-1929, Timothy C. Fabrizio and George F. Paul

Gramophone ad, McClure's magazine, November 1896



Hit Parade

A hit parade is a ranked list of the most popular recordings at a given point in time, usually determined by sales and/or airplay. The term originated in the 1930s; Billboard magazine published its first music hit parade on January 4, 1936. It has also been used by broadcast programs which featured hit (sheet music and record) tunes such as Your Hit Parade, which aired on radio and television in the United States from 1935 through the 1950s. - Wikipedia

Valentine ca. 1940



"in the groove"

noun - "groove" is listed in dictionaries as "the track or channel of a phonograph record for the needle or stylus." Of course, not alot of grooves are being cut in the 21st century but it still has phonograph associations and is an understood science. The verb "groove" as slang continues to live and is often associated with music, e.g., "to take great pleasure; enjoy oneself: He was grooving on the music." The idiom slang "in the groove" likewise can have some sexual connotations e.g.,Madonna's song "In the Groove", but in general means to be "in the popular fashion; up-to-date.

The link between "groove" and a "phonograph groove" still exists, just like a musical "track" is still the language of selecting a song on an iPod (even though there is literally no "track" or "groove" but rather only the somewhat boring and mysterious computer file). So digital displays on CD players and iPods could say "Groove 1" instead of "Track 1" when playing the first song of an album, but in this case "groove" hasn't made the cut.



looking "like the old RCA dog looked at the phonograph"

Simile used to describe a quizzical look with head cocked. In the 2004 U.S. Presidential Debate Number 3, October 13, 2004 commentator Paul Begala described the following:

Bush tried to make a joke about media reports that have said Bush is misleading people...then oddly stopped and chuckled to himself. All across America people are looking at their TV's like the old RCA dog looked at the phonograph -- head cocked, brow furrowed, with a quizzical look on their face."



"makes a sound resembling a needle dragged across a phonograph record"

Simile that relies on listener being familiar with a phonograph needle scratching across a record. Example from VERBATIM, a periodical devoted to "Translating the Language of Birds":

"When words fail, birders resort to analogous sounds to describe vocalizations. The gang-gang cockatoo and Montezuma oropendola sound like creaking hinges. The black-and-white warbler sounds like a squeaky wheel, while the field spar- row sounds like a ping-pong ball bouncing on a table. The pine siskin makes a sound resembling a needle dragged across a phonograph record, while the rufous whistler can sound like a stuck record" - from VERBATIM VOL. XXVIII, NO . 1 - The Language Quarterly, Winter 2003

Listen to needle scratching a record HERE





suffix - "-ola" was used in 1898 with the introduction of the pianola by the Aeolian Company in New York. The pianola was a specific name for the player piano manufuctured by the Aeolian Company but it would become a generic term for all player pianos. Its name may have originally been based on "piano" and "viola". When the Victor Talking Machine Company introduced their new cabinet model Victor gramophone in August 1906 they named it the "Victor-Victrola". There are over 90 phonograph or music playing machines that use "-ola" as a suffix for their brand name.



"ok after a record run"

Phrase was used on a postcard mailed in November 1932 where the postcard shows a roadster that has Victrola records for tires. The phrase uses the double entendre "Record" for the literal meaning of having records for wheels and running on records, and for the meaning of "record" as the highest or best rate, amount, etc., ever attained, esp. in sports e.g., to hold the record for home runs.




payola - noun

Payola is a secret or indirect payment (as to a disc jockey) for a commercial favor (as for promoting a particular record), in the music industry - Merriam-Webster

The term was coined in 1938 when entertainment industry publication Variety combined the words "pay" and "ola" as in "Victrola." See the History Channel's This Day in History which calls February 11, 1960 the day the "Payola scandal reaches a new level of public prominence, when President Eisenhower called it an issue of public morality ..."



phonautograph - noun

The phonautograph is the earliest known device for recording sound. Previously, tracings had been obtained of the sound-producing vibratory motions of tuning forks and other objects by physical contact with them, but not of actual sound waves as they propagated through air or other media. Invented and patented by Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville on March 25, 1857. - Wikipedia

Phonautograph, 1859



phonograph - noun

Phonograph is what Edison named his invention complated on December 6, 1877 that was the first device to successfully record and reproduce the human voice.


The term phonograph ("sound writer") is derived from the Greek words meaning "sound" or "voice" (and transliterated as phone-) and "writing" (transliterated as graphe-). Similar related terms gramophone and graphophone have similar root meanings. The coinage, particularly the use of the -graph root, may have been influenced by the then-existing words phonographic and phonography, which referred to a system of phonetic shorthand; in 1852 The New York Times carried an advertisement for "Professor Webster's phonographic class", and in 1859 the New York State Teachers' Association tabled a motion to "employ a phonographic recorder" to record its meetings.
F. B. Fenby was the original author of the word. An inventor in Worcester, Massachusetts, he was granted a patent in 1863 for an unsuccessful device called the "Electro-Magnetic Phonograph". His concept detailed a system that would record a sequence of keyboard strokes onto paper tape. Although no model or workable device was ever made, it is often seen as a link to the concept of punched paper for player piano rolls (1880s), as well as Herman Hollerith's punch card tabulator (used in the 1890 United States census), a distant precursor of the modern computer.
Arguably, any device used to record sound or reproduce recorded sound could be called a type of "phonograph", but in common practice it has come to mean historic technologies of sound recording. - Wikipedia



phonograph - noun

An irritating toy that restores life to dead noises. - Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, 1911


"Infernal talking machine " postcard ca. 1908




phonographia - noun

All things connected with the phonograph that remind us about its history and popular culture impact, i.e., memorabilia of the phonograph. Phonographia are a variety of objects and images and words that contribute to our memory of the Phonograph. Phonographia are found in art, advertisements, personal stories, literature, photographs, newspapers, movies, greeting cards, postcards, cartoons, comic books rooted in all talking machines and recording formats from their respective era.



phonographians - noun

Phonographians are Friends of the Phonograph who enjoy all connections to the Phonograph.

Example: A Phonographian playing Pinochle will always bid "33 1/3" instead of 33 when given the opportunity.

The Motto of Phonographians: "Save Energy - Wind a Phonograph!"

The Mantra of Phonographians: "It's a Revolution still turning!"

The Mission Statement of Phonographians: "Remember the Phonograph!"



phonography - noun

1. Pitman shorthand, a system of shorthand stenography developed by Isaac Pitman (1837). Andrew J. Graham, author and teacher of stenography, developed the Graham shorthand system and was conductor of the Phonetic Academy, New York (1860)

2. Field recording of natural sounds, also called phonography (a term chosen to illustrate its similarities to photography) - Wikipedia

3. Phonography (album), the 1976 debut album by R. Stevie Moore

4. Phonography (song), from 2008 Circus album by Britney Spears


Andrew Graham’s stenography (1860) for “Phonographic students”



Phonography (album), 1976 by R. Stevie Moore



Phonography (song), from 2008 Circus album by Britney Spears



priceless - noun

"Explaining to your grandchildren what a record is: Priceless"




"put a sock in it"

This phrase is generally thought of in the context of someone being noisy and these words being the colorful request to quiet down. Interestingly, many believe that this phrase actually originates with the phonograph being noisy or annoying and the solution being to literally put a sock in the phonograph's horn.

Early phonograph's horns amplified the sound but there was no volume control so putting a sock in the horn would dampen that sound. Edison's later Diamond Disc phonograph had an internal metal horn but actually did have a mechanism for dampening the sound that used a lever to move a large cotton ball into the horn to dampen the sound.

Below is a picture of the Edison A-250, a 1914 Diamond Disc Phonograph with its ball tone modifier, said to be used because patent restrictions on doors and louvres required a different solution by Edison.






verb - to record is "to set down, register, or fix by characteristic marks, incisions, magnetism, etc., for the purpose of reproduction by a phonograph or magnetic reproducer."

noun - "something on which sound or images have been recorded for subsequent reproduction, as a grooved disk that is played on a phonograph or an optical disk for recording sound (audiodisk) or images (videodisk). Compare compact disk."





noun - Single, in the music industry, is a type of release, typically a song recording of fewer tracks than an LP record or an album. This can be released for sale to the public in a variety of different formats. In most cases, a single is a song that is released separately from an album, although it usually also appears on an album. Typically, these are the songs from albums that are released separately for promotional uses such as digital download or commercial radio airplay and are expected to be the most popular. In other cases a recording released as a single may not appear on an album. Wikipedia

The most common form of the vinyl single is the 45 or 7-inch. The names are derived from its play speed, 45 rpm, and the standard diameter, 7 inches (18 cm).

A 45 rpm single typically lasts between 2 and 5 minutes. See Records' Factolas Oscura for the longest playing 45 rpm single side ever recorded.




"sounds like a broken record"

When someone repeats themselves, usually in a tiresome or annoying manner, the reference to sounding like a broken record can be used. This description refers to a time when records, when worn or scratched, were prone to the needle getting stuck in the same groove, and thus repeated the same track over and over.

James Thurber's story in "My Life and Hard Times" about a record he grew up with called "No News, or What Killed the Dog?" is a classic example of this reiterative phenomenon.

"Father was usually in bed by nine-thirty and up again by ten-thirty to protest bitterly against a Victrola record we three boys were in the habit of playing over and over, namely, "No News, or What Killed the Dog," a recitation by Nat Wills. The record had been played so many times that its grooves were deeply cut and the needle often kept revolving in the same groove, repeating over and over the same words. Thus: "ate some burnt hoss flesh, ate some burnt hoss flesh, ate some burnt hoss flesh." It was this reiteration that generally got father out of bed."



"Top-five List "

List making happens for many reasons but in the world of recordings the 'top-five list" means selecting five favorites songs. The list can be "pure" favorites or it can be based on a theme, e.g., top-five songs related to death or love, etc.

Top-five list making was immortalized in the movie "High-Fidelity" starring John Cusask who made a habit of creating tapes of his favorites for friends. As a record store owner Cusak also engaged in competition with his employees (e.g., Jack Black) to pick top-fives for various topics (e.g., Laura's father passing).

Top-five list maker John Cusack in "Hi-Fidelity", courtesy Touchstone Pictures



"Your Hit Parade"

"Your Hit Parade" was a popular radio show in the 1930's that continued through the 1950's.

Before disc jockeys and Top-40 charts became commonplace, there was Your Hit Parade, a radio institution that billed itself as “an accurate, authentic tabulation of America's taste in popular music.”

Every Saturday night, Your Hit Parade presented the top tunes of the week, saving the top three songs for the end of the show. As a nod to longtime sponsor Lucky Strike Cigarettes, Your Hit Parade occasionally featured an old favorite as a “Lucky Strike Extra.”

Batten, Barton, Durstine & Osborne, the show’s advertising agency, remained secretive about the methods used to determine the top songs. It was acknowledged that Your Hit Parade’s statisticians examined sheet music sales and jukebox tabulations before reaching their conclusions.

Your Hit Parade debuted on April 20, 1935 and moved between NBC and CBS until January 16, 1953. A television version of Your Hit Parade was simulcast over NBC Radio from 1950 to 1959.

Text and information courtesy of the Radio Hall of Fame.org




"vaccinated with a phonograph needle"

Phrase used in Marx Brothers 1933 movie "Duck Soup" addressed to someone who just kept talking and talking: "You know, you haven't stopped talking since I came here. You must have been vaccinated with a phonograph needle."








(1) The Dictionary of Phonographia is authored and/or documented by Friends of the Phonograph

(2) Sculpting Sound: The Life of a Field Recordist - Jack Needham speaks to practitioners of the art of field recording about the history of the craft and their distinct creative philosophies, March 24, 2017 - http://daily.redbullmusicacademy.com/2017/03/the-art-of-field-recording