In Ancient Greece, the three-stringed lute, or pandura, was very popular from the 4th century BCE onward. The Romans thought it was neat too, so they borrowed both the instrument and the word for it, making a few changes like widening the neck and adding a string. Then that was picked up by the Portuguese, with the word for it becoming bandurra along the way (the p to b switch is common in etymology because both letters are bilabial stops, the only difference being that you vibrate your vocal cords for the b). As the Portuguese spread their music, they also transported slaves across the Atlantic Ocean, some of whom picked up the bandurra for themselves. However, because the Indo-European word was so unusual to the non-IE Africans, they slurred it to become banjo, which should be familiar to you all. This is just the most likely of many possible explanations for banjo's origin, but we definitely know the term emerged from the Caribbean in the 17th century. It could also trace to an African string instrument called mbanaza, or from a folk dance, banya, or maybe it traveled by way of Spanish bandurria. Intriguing options either way!
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.