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Gama and Gamut

Gama (Span­ish for “range”) comes from the Greek gam­ma, the third let­ter of the al­pha­bet: al­pha be­ta gam­ma. But it came to mean “range” in an in­ter­est­ing way: mu­sic. The tra­di­tion­al mu­si­cal note gam­ma — which to­day is just ‘g’ — was used, in clas­sic mu­si­cal no­ta­tion, and still to­day — to re­fer to the note that is both just be­low the pri­ma­ry start­ing let­ter ‘a’ (hence, on a pi­ano, the ‘g’ key is im­me­di­ate­ly to the left of the ‘a’ key), as well as the high­est note that ends the oc­tave on the oth­er side. Thus, the gam­ma refers to the whole range of notes!

From the same root, and with the same mu­si­cal his­to­ry, we al­so get the Eng­lish SAT-syn­onym for “range”… gamut.

The g‑m root is clear­ly vis­i­ble in both.


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