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Whats in a name

What's in a name

The phonograph, or gramophone, was the most common device for playing recorded sound from the 1870s through the 1980s. Usage of these terms is somewhat different in American English and British English. In more modern usage, this device is often called a turntable or record player. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the alternative term talking machine was sometimes used. The phonograph was the first device for recording and replaying sound.

The term phonograph means "writing sound", a term coined from Greek roots. Similar related terms gramophone and graphophone mean the same thing. Arguably, any device used to record sound or reproduce recorded sound could be called a type of "phonograph", but in common practice it is usually only used to refer to certain historic technologies of sound recording.

In British English "gramophone" came to refer to any sound reproducing machine using disc records, as disc records were popularized in the UK by the Gramophone Company. The term "phonograph" is usually restricted to devices playing cylinder records. The term "gramophone" would generally be taken to refer to a wind-up machine, and from the 1960's onwards the more common term would be "record player" or "stereo" for a complete system (most systems were stereophonic by the mid-1960's), and "turntable" for an individual component of a system that played not only records but included other sources.

In American English, "phonograph" was the most common generic term for any early sound reproducing machine, until the second half of the 20th century, when it became archaic and "record player" became the universal term for disk record machines. Emile Berliner's Gramophone was considered a type of phonograph. "Gramophone" was a brand name, and as such in the same category as "Victrola," "Zon-o-phone," "Graphophone" and "Graphonola" referring to specific brands of sound reproducing machines. Similarly, in German, "das Gramophon" (literally "the Gramophone") was the most common generic term for any sound reproducer using grooved records, hence the brand name Deutsche Grammophon.

In the Australian Vernacular, "record player" was the generic term, the word turntable was a more technical term and "gramophone" was restricted to the old, non-electric disc record players and, the use of "phonograph" was as in British English. In the compact disc era, the somewhat inaccurate retronym "black record player" became popular.

The brand "Gramophone" was not used in the USA after 1901, and the word fell out of use there. In contemporary American usage "phonograph" most usually refers to disc record machines or turntables, the most common type of analogue recording from the 1910s on. The word has survived in America based on its nickname form, "Grammy", in the Grammy Awards.

Strictly speaking, the gramophone is the machine reproducing sound from an engraved archive, whereas a phonograph is a machine that captures sound onto an engraved archive, i.e., a lathe.