Why do we call the English horn by its French name Cor Anglais and the French horn by its English name, why does this exist? What does the French Horn go by in France? Cor Français?

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    The French call the French horn cor d'harmonie.
    – Lee White
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 19:05
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    @LeeWhite - often just shortened to 'cor'.
    – Tim
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 10:20
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    I assume, this is more a language topic and should be moved to English Language (for the first part), but why questions are unlikely to find unchallenged answers there.
    – guidot
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 12:20
  • because "French horn" sounds nicer than "hunting horn with valves hacked in" ? :-) Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 13:01
  • Related: English Horn Etymology Commented Dec 8, 2021 at 22:50

4 Answers 4


The English horn has no roots whatsoever in England or the English language. If the name were truthful, perhaps the Silesian Horn or Polish Horn would have been more accurate.

Historically, the English horn was associated with angels because of some common depictions in art at the time, and this led to the horn being called engellisches Horn in German.

"Engellisches" means "angelic".

"Englisches" means "English", and is pronounced nearly the same.

The resulting cor anglaise is most likely a transliteration that incorrectly took "Engellisches" to mean "English" instead of "angelic".

So, even though it seems ironic that the English refer to their own horn using another language's name, it is a bit more understandable once you realize that the name actually existed in French before it did in English.

I am aware that this only gives some background information without actually answering the question. This is simply a case of a word being literally borrowed from a different language instead of being translated, transliterated or receiving a new English word altogether. Other examples of the English language borrowing words from French are rendez-vous and chef d'œuvre, but there are many more. If you want an accurate answer to why specific words get borrowed, I'd post in the English SO -- the users there probably know more about this than us musicians.

  • 1
    Very good answer!
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 19:18
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    It also migrated into Italian, as "corno inglese." Most German orchestral scores call it "Englisch" not "Engellisch." The mistakes made when religious art works depict musical instruments is a different (and long) story in itself - of course these instruments aren't horns at all, but oversized oboes.
    – user19146
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 19:22
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    This is one theory of the derivation of "English horn". Another theory, in my opinion more likely, is that it's a corruption of the French "cor anglé", or "bent horn", which sounds like "cor anglais", or "English horn". The instrument was indeed built in a curve in Baroque times to make it less of a stretch for the hands. Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 21:15
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    @ScottWallace I read about that theory, but I decided not to include it since most historians reject it on the grounds that there are no records of it being called cor anglé at any point in time.
    – Lee White
    Commented Feb 11, 2017 at 22:34
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    @leftaroundabout: No, despite the meaning angels being different from anglosaxons, the word never reflected this, see German Wikipedia, where Englischer Gruß also referred to the greeting of an angel undisputedly.
    – guidot
    Commented Feb 12, 2017 at 12:16

They are, in fact, two completely different instruments. 'French horn' belonging to the brass family, operated by piston or rotary valves, and the 'cor Anglais' being a double reeded instrument, thus part of woodwind.

The term 'horn' originated from the hunting horn, and developed with graet changes into, amongst other things, the French horn. Officially it should be called merely 'horn', although that confuses it with any other of the horns, like trumpet, trombone, et al. The French horn became morphed into the German horn, mthere was also an Austrian version.The valves were added to allow it to play more than just harmonics, and the hand in the bell gives it even more control over the notes it can produce.

The cor Anglais is a different beast altogether, part of the oboe family. Other woodwinds - clarinet, sax, have a single reed, whereas oboe and cor Anglais has a double reed. Neither a horn nor possibly English. It's thought that the 'horn' part came from its resemblance of those played by angels in Middle Age paintings.In Middle High German, the word engellisch meant angelic as well as English, so there's potential confusion there. However, I can't discover why 'English horn' was then translated into the French language to give us 'cor Anglais'.

Ironically, it was used in parts of Europe from around 1740, under the Italian 'corno inglese', didn't come into popular usage in France till 1800, and took till 1830 to be used regularly in England!

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    I don't see how this addresses the problem. Further, saxes and clarinets are often colloquially referred to as one's horns. Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 13:03
  • @CarlWitthoft - just about anything one blows through gets called a horn. Even when made of wood! I've researched into the question, and this is about all I can come up with. It's your turn now!
    – Tim
    Commented Feb 13, 2017 at 15:29

12 occurrences of "English Horn" on this page... are you sure we English speakers don't call the English Horn an English Horn?


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...and the bottom of the page...

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Cor Anglais is a misinterpretation of the original name. Originally the horn was called cor anglé, referring to the angled crook of the instrument. So, English horn is actually a misnomer.

  • That's very unlikely, further information here
    – PiedPiper
    Commented Feb 15 at 22:35

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