ukulele

noun uku·le·le \ ˌyü-kə-ˈlā-lē , ˌü- \
variants: or less commonly ukelele
Updated on: 27 Nov 2017

Definition of ukulele

: a small guitar of Portuguese origin popularized in Hawaii in the 1880s and strung typically with four strings

Recent Examples of ukulele from the Web

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'ukulele.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

Illustration of ukulele

Origin and Etymology of ukulele

Hawaiian ʽukulele, from ʽuku flea + lele jumping


UKULELE Defined for English Language Learners

ukulele

noun

Definition of ukulele for English Language Learners

  • : a musical instrument that is like a small guitar with four strings


UKULELE Defined for Kids

ukulele

noun uku·le·le \ ˌyü-kə-ˈlā-lē \

Definition of ukulele for Students

: a musical instrument like a small guitar with four strings

History for ukulele

In the Hawaiian language ʽukulele means literally “jumping flea,” a creature with little resemblance to a small guitar. It is likely that this peculiar name became attached to the instrument in a roundabout way. Edward Purvis, a former British army officer living at the court of the Hawaiian king, is said to have been given the nickname ʽukulele because he was a small, lively man. In 1879 Portuguese immigrants to Hawaii brought with them a small four-stringed guitar called a machete. Purvis was taken with the instrument and soon learned to play it. When the machete became a Hawaiian favorite, it took on Purvis's nickname, ʽukulele, and its Portuguese name was soon forgotten.



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