Fever Pitch

Prefacing “pitch” with “fever” is a bit ambiguous, but I think the key to unraveling “fever pitch” lies in terms such as “fevered” and “feverish,” both of which denote a state of overwrought excitement, restless energy and delirious frenzy such as might be brought on by a severe fever. Of course, people actually in the grip of a high fever rarely get any constructive work done, and “fever pitch” taken literally would more accurately describe the state of someone wrapped in blankets babbling at the TV than our friend Bob frantically doing his taxes, but that’s the English language for you.

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4 comments on this post.
  1. Glenn:

    Also….pitch black. Oil or tar.

  2. Stuart:

    It’s possible that fever-pitch resulted from a misinterpretation of the letter ‘s’ (which stylized looks much like an ‘f’). Then from there the idea of what fever-pitch might mean was conceived. Check this out.


  3. Garth:

    The term “fever pitch” is most certainly from the mid-19th Century and has everything to do with music. Before that time , musical instruments had been tuned to A=432Hz or a vibration of 432 times per second. In the mid-19th Century, a push was made the increase the pitch to A=440Hz or even as high as A=460Hz. This had the effect of making music sound brighter and more exciting. The composers of the time were all for this. You see, Europe was in a state of flux, with the political radicals pushing for Republicanism over Monarchism. The composers generally supported the avant-garde Republicans, and what better way than through music. This was the time of the Revolution of 1848, which ultimately brought on the unification of the German states into one country under the influence of the reformer Otto von Bismarck. The change to a higher pitch in the music was found to have a psychological effect on people, making them more excitable and/or agitated. This played them straight into the hands of the revolutionaries in a kind of mass political hysteria or “fever”. The French saw this and enacted a law establishing the original A=432Hz as their national standard. In 1939, the Propaganda Minister of Nazi Germany, Josef Goebbels, pushed for A=450Hz to be made the standard of Europe, as it was already the German srandard. It was rejected, but it really didn’t matter because most musicians, including the major orchestras of the world had already made the switch due to the heavy influence of the Jazz Age. And so today we have the “fever pitch” or A=440 to 460Hz in our music. It works especially well with rock music, for obvious reasons.
    BTW The older A=432Hz pitch is now referred to as Belconta or beautiful music. I find it much more relaxing and easier to listen to and most serious singers will tell you it is much easier on the human singing voice. Try listening to Beethoven’s 4th Movement of the 9th Symphony, The Ode to Joy, in Belconto. I can guarentee you won’t be able to hold back the tears!

  4. Garth:

    The term “fever pitch” comes from the mid-19th century when a switch from A=432Hz or 432 vibrations per second to no less than A=440Hz and to as high as A=460Hz was being pushed for tuning musical instruments. It was found that the higher pitch seemed brighter and more exiting to the human ear, and had a psychological effect on people, making them more excitable or agitated. This played right into the Revolution of 1848 in Europe, in which most musicians supported the avant-garde Republican movement. The change in pitch was so profound that even the Nazi Propaganda Minister, Josef Goebbels, pushed to have it made the European standard in 1939. That wasn’t really necessary, as all the major orchestras and most musicians had already made the change due to the influence of Ragtime and the Jazz Age. The best example of the effect that the “fever pitch” or A=440-460Hz has on the human psyche is seen in the different forms of Rock Music.

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