I have a new friend from New York. (What’s with me and the Big Apple?) Anyway, he’s a cultured, interesting, funny, intelligent ex-Texan with whom I vastly enjoy interacting with. Here's an example of the interesting things he comes up with. The other day, he came across the etymology of the word pariah.
pariah: 1610s, from Port. paria or directly from Tamil paraiyar, pl. of paraiyan “drummer” (at festivals, the hereditary duty of members of the largest of the lower castes of southern India), from parai “large festival drum.” Especially numerous at Madras, where its members supplied most of the domestics in European service. Applied by Hindus and Europeans to members of any low Hindu caste and even to outcastes. Extended meaning “social outcast” is first attested 1819.
Why are drums associated with lowliness or disgrace? Is it because they are so basic, perhaps the first instrument ever made? Not only is the drummer himself an outcast, drums (not bugles) are used to heighten a soldier’s humiliation in a drumming out ceremony. The OED dates the first usage of “drumming out of the corps” to 1766 in Thomas Amory's “The Life of John Buncle,” 150 years after the first recorded use of pariah.
To explain why drummers were members of the lowest caste -- drumming was an occupation performed by the Dalit or untouchable caste because drums were made from the tanned hides of animals and thus once associated with death. Therefore, the task of beating on them fell to the Dalit caste, who also performed other “unclean” occupations having to do with death and human waste.
To round this post of:
Q: What is the definition of a band?
A: Three musicians and a drummer. (ba-da-boom!)
(Courtesy largely to Robert Geoffrey McMillin)