The English horn is a musical instrument that is neither English, nor shaped like a horn. So what gives? The woodwind was invented in the 1720s in Silesia, when it was curved like other orchestral horns. At the time, it was called engellisches horn, which meant "angelic horn" in Middle High German, because it was thought to resemble the horns played by angels in religious imagery. However, when the instrument first started getting popular in the rest of Europe around the middle of the eighteenth century, the French misunderstood the name to be englisch horn, so they called it the cor anglais, meaning "English horn". Finally, we translated the phrase (this kind of borrowing is called a calque) into English to get the modern term. Over time, English horns gradually became less curved and more oboe-shaped, which explains the second part of the misnomer. What a cool story!
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.