Definition of ukulele
: a small guitar of Portuguese origin popularized in Hawaii in the 1880s and strung typically with four strings
Origin and Etymology of ukulele
Hawaiian ʽukulele, from ʽuku flea + lele jumping
First Known Use: 1896
UKULELE Defined for English Language Learners
Definition of ukulele for English Language Learners
: a musical instrument that is like a small guitar with four strings
UKULELE Defined for Kids
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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