Where does the word “tympany” come from and What does tympany mean in Latin?

Used, today, as a collective noun to designate the aggregation of kettledrums in an orchestra, the word “tympany” is actually the Anglicized form of the Latin tympanum, “a drum,” from the Greek tympanon, “a drum,” from typtein, “to strike, beat.”

The Latin word has also been taken directly into English with the original spelling preserved, in the same meaning, and there also exists a much older Anglicized form, tympan, which may have come through the Old French tympan rather than directly from the Latin.

It seems probable that the modern use of tympany may have arisen from the mistaken belief that this spelling, or at least the pronunciation thereof, represented the plural of tympanum (i.e, as though the Latin plural were tympani), whereas its true plural is tympana.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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