Word of the Day


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Liz Potter
Written by Liz Potter


a large musical instrument with a row of black and white keys that produce notes when you press them

View the full definition in the Macmillan Dictionary.

Origin and usage

The noun piano is a shortening of the term ‘pianoforte’, which was coined in the mid 18th century. Piano may have been borrowed from French or may have been formed within English; it was first used in English in the late 18th century.


Saturday 28 March was World Piano Day, an annual celebration of the piano. The date was chosen because it is the 88th day of the year and a full-size piano has 88 keys. The word is a shortening of ‘pianoforte’, which refers to a keyboard instrument that could play both softly (piano) and loudly (forte), unlike earlier instruments such as the harpsichord whose volume cannot be varied. Pianos come in various shapes and sizes, the two most common being the upright and the grand. Square pianos (which are not actually square but oblong) were popular in the past but are rarely seen nowadays except in museum collections. Electronic pianos are increasingly popular, because not only are they much lighter than a traditional piano, they don’t have to be regularly tuned. Someone who plays the piano is called a pianist or a piano player, the latter usually being used to refer to someone who plays pop music or jazz.


‘Why does the world need a Piano Day?,’ asks German composer Nils Frahm. ‘For many reasons. But mostly, because it doesn’t hurt to celebrate the piano and everything around it: performers, composers, piano builders, tuners, movers and most importantly, the listener.’

Related words

clavichord, harpsichord, keyboards, Pianola

Browse related words in the Macmillan Thesaurus.

About the author

Liz Potter

Liz Potter

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