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A crotchet in British English is one beat - a quarter in American English.

In French, the very similar word croche means a quaver (eighth note), just half the value of a crotchet.

The two words are too similar for them not to have come from the same root word - which is French for crooked, bent, hooked; a crochet is a little hook, we use the same word for a kind of knitting. Now, a crotchet (English) looks less like a hook than a quaver, so pictorially, the French term is pretty accurate. (They call a one beat note la noire (the black), again a more descriptive term)

Question - why and how did we end up with crotchet as the English term for that note value?

Question number 20,000! Well, it would've been...

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  • Because Frenchies are more logical :P ? (What do you mean, you say that because you're french?! How dare you?) – Tom Oct 29 '20 at 14:57
  • The first sheet music was embroidered on cloth. In more sedate English music the most common note was the quarter note while in livelier French music it was the eighth note. QED :-) – Brian Towers Oct 29 '20 at 14:58
  • Yes, why did you across the pond end up with crotchet when “quarter note” is clearly the better name? :-D – Todd Wilcox Oct 29 '20 at 15:38
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    Are you sure this is the 20000th? It writes 19999 here… – Tom Oct 29 '20 at 16:09
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    Does this answer your question? Where did the British names for different note lengths come from? – Aaron Oct 30 '20 at 6:48
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Etymology is rarely a precise science. For instance, in my part of the world there are two places with 'Chadwell' in the name, and the consensus is that the 'Chad' part of each has an entirely different derivation!

But we know that in mensural notation, the note that was half the length of a minim could be written as an open note with a hook or a filled one without. So one language may well have assigned 'hook' to the old notation, the other to the newer one.

enter image description here

https://www.britannica.com/art/musical-notation/Evolution-of-Western-staff-notation#ref530062

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  • That is all fascinating stuff. And we think our system's difficut enough! Still trying to determine why the French croche is ony half the value of the English crotchet. Devaluation..? And entemology...close to something insectish, I guess! – Tim Oct 29 '20 at 15:14
  • Because, as I said, the British picked up on the old 'hooked' note, the French on the new one. (Must we confuse the issue with a rapidly-corrected mis-type? :-) – Laurence Payne Oct 29 '20 at 15:44
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In the copied image of Laurence we can see that the values and note lengths have been diminished about 50% from earlier notation.

The brevis was half as long as the lunga (imperfect) The next division was the semi brevis that optically ressembles to the whole note.

Actually “la breve” in french is the half note and resembles to the minima. Now the next division is the fusa and it had also a hook. This explains that this division - the half value of a breve is called the crotchet referring to the quarter note, division of the half note, while la croche in french refers to the black notation and the english term seems to be derived of the white notation.

CROTCHET, a note which is half the value of a minim, and twice that of a quaver, and is represented thus (figure rythmique noire hampe bas.svg). The origin of the name is not known. It is apparently derived from the French croche; but croche is a quaver, (figure rythmique croche hampe bas.svg) and is so called on account of the hook at the end of its tail, whereas a crotchet has no hook. The French name for this note is noire, the Italian, semi-minima, and the German Viertel, 'a quarter'—i.e. of a semi-breve.

https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/A_Dictionary_of_Music_and_Musicians/Crotchet

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