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I am posting this as a benchmark, not because I think I'm playing very well yet.  The idea would be post a video every month for a ye...

Monday, July 26, 2021


Cbops is an interesting metonymy. It means the mouth and jaws, in slang, and thus the brass player's (or sax's) embouchure. (Even singers talk of embouchure.) "the way in which a player applies the mouth to the mouthpiece of a brass or wind instrument."     

Since the embouchure is vital to technical proficiency, chops becomes the favored metonymy for technical proficiency on a wind instrument. The next stage in the use of the word is that players of other instruments begin to use the word for technical proficiency. A piano player or drummer. I can honestly say I have very minimal chops on the keyboard. The word spreads from jazz to other styles of music, and from wind instruments to other instruments.  My dictionary derives chops from chap, but I always thought it derived from choppers, slang for teeth. 

Now we can extend the meaning to non-musical endeavors.  We can have chops taking photos or writing scholarly prose. It all comes from the mouth, or embouchure, the point at which the human voice emerges from the body.   


Thomas Basbøll said...

There's a gesture at what might be "social chops" in Beckett's Watt, which I noticed many years ago. "Watt had watched people smile and thought he understood how it was done. ... To many it seemed a simple sucking of the teeth."

You point out that we can generalize embouchure as the source of "voice". We might go further (or it might amount to the same thing) and say that embouchure is the control we have over our faces, the muscles of "facework" (in Goffman's sense).

Like I said in that old post, the tricky thing is that at that level (that of voice and face) we also go beyond the idea of training, into questions of authenticity. When we say that someone has a nice smile we're not admiring the hours of practice they put into learning how to suck their teeth convincingly. We're implying that their disposition has been shaped by the company of nice people being nice to them over many years. Or even that they were born pleasant.

Leslie B. said...

This is very interesting! I will try to release the image of the Victorian gentleman getting grease from his mutton chop into his sideburns!