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FIFA World Cup 2010, South Africa. The excitement. The tension. The constant sound of buzzing bees.

And every one kept talking about this crazy new instrument the 'vuvuzela' making all this noise, so exotic and colorful; even the word is wild.

Except that the instrument is totally well-known, at least in the US and at football games, and has been for as long as I can remember. Kids would come back from most any sporting event (ones where you'd take kids with either a pennant, a jersey, a ball, some sparkly thing, or ... well, this thing we currently call a vuvuzela.

What was this plastic trumpet thing called before the -word- 'vuvuzela' appeared? Was it so generically called a 'plastic trumpet'? Is that how impoverished things were vocabulary-wise that we had no more evocative term for it, making it so easy for vuvuzela to take over? So impoverished that I don't think there was even a word at all; we just pointed. Even the vendors may not have known, they just sold those things when people pointed at them. "We're almost sold out of ...those things... We'll be getting a box of ...those things in a few minutes?"

What did we call ... it before summer 2010?

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Did you check out the Wikipedia article? – Daniel Jul 5 '11 at 17:09
@drm65: Yes, I did see that article. It only addresses the object and corresponding name 'vuvuzela' in South Africa. My remark is that the object existed outside of South Africa since at least the 70's (my first memory of it) and did not have the label 'vuvuzela' in AmE before summer 2010. And the question then is what was the label (at least in AmE) before then. – Mitch Jul 5 '11 at 18:32
@drm65: the wikipedia article mentions 'stadium horn' which sounds familiar: Google NGrams shows no appearances of it, ever, but it seems you can buy it from Amazon that way. Any more confirmation that that is the best prior term for it? – Mitch Jul 5 '11 at 18:41
The reason why I didn't answer is because I don't know. I just thought I'd give you a possible source of research. – Daniel Jul 5 '11 at 19:10
up vote 7 down vote accepted

I had one of these as a child, and as I recall we just called it a "plastic trumpet".

As this illustrates, not everything has a unique name. In particular, for people outside South Africa those buzzy plastic horns were simply not common or salient enough to warrant a their own non-generic label until very recently. It took a particular event to make most people aware of them as something significant and name-worthy, and when the need for a name arose we simply borrowed vuvuzela from the region where the trumpets had been notable for longer.

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Both the name and particular usage (constant, constant droning) stand out enough for it to take precedence. – Mitch Jul 5 '11 at 18:38

The toy (plastic) trumpet is simply a modern, mass-market replacement for a real vuvuzela. The design is based on a European "natural trumpet", such as one might still see played at a period instrument Baroque concert.

A vuvuzela was traditionally an antelope horn (specifically, a kudu horn), similar to the ram's-horn shofar used in Jewish ceremonies. The word already existed when the plastic horn came along.

We see the instrument as a plastic trumpet; they see it as a plastic vuvuzela. It makes a racket, but compared to the original it saves n/2 antelope lives (where n is the number of attendees at the stadium).

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Plus, these were not at all common in most parts of the world. One reason why the word "vuvuzela" took off is that in most of Europe this was not used as a noisemaker at games, so were unfamiliar to the majority of commentators, FIFA officials, and players. – Marcin Jul 5 '11 at 18:19
@Marcin: it is and was very common in the US for as long as I know. During the World Cup the announcers kept talking about these exotic vuvuzelas, but I couldn't see anybody using them because all the plastic horns were in the way. – Mitch Jul 6 '11 at 14:09
@Marcin: Yes, from a superficial web search, it seems that both the object and the name were hardly known outside of South Africa (maybe southern Africa?) except the object itself is well known in the US but by other names. – Mitch Jul 6 '11 at 14:17

The plastic horn-like thing sold at sporting events for noise making in the US is named by the sellers as a

stadium horn.

It is called by normal people as just a 'horn', 'trumpet', 'plastic horn', or 'plastic trumpet'. Functionally it has been replaced by the easier to use but somewhat more annoying 'air-horn' which only exercises your thumb, and because of its inner-ear-cilia-stripping action, is only ever fun to use once.

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+1, because this is what Wikipedia says. I don't ever remember them though. I think for us lazy Americans actually blowing into it to make noise is far too much effort, so we prefer (compressed) air horns. – T.E.D. Jul 6 '11 at 16:04

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