- Laurence Libin
In the argot of American popular music, a term for any instrument. The word particularly denotes wind and string types common in bands, such as saxophones and electric guitars; it is less often applied to keyboards and drum sets. Of uncertain origin but widespread by the 1950s, this usage apparently emerged in the early 20th century, perhaps in connection with the colloquial terms ‘woodshedding’ (laborious practicing or performing) and ‘chops’ (a wind player’s jaws, mouth, or embouchure, and by extension, any instrumentalist’s technical ability), as in ‘He’s woodshedding with his ax to improve his chops’. ‘Cutting contests’ (performance competitions) between early New Orleans jazz players naturally involved their axes. Such rustic terminology implies effortful, demonstrative physical work, like chopping wood with an ax....