(From The Wrecker by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne, Chapter XXI, published 1892)

Passage 326

I stepped toward the window. It was the old familiar room, with the tables set like a Greek P, and the sideboard, and the aphasiac piano, and the panels on the wall.

I know what aphasia and aphasiac means but I don't know what the speaker means by aphasiac piano. What do you take an aphasiac piano to be or to mean? What does the speaker imagine when he is speaking of an aphasiac piano?

  • 3
    I would guess that it had some notes that didn't sound, so trying to play a tune on it was like listening to a person who can't speak properly. Definitely an unconventional use of the term. Dec 2, 2023 at 11:14
  • 1
    Unable to communicate properly (make sounds correctly) because of damage. Usually spelled 'aphasic' in modern times. Dec 2, 2023 at 11:21
  • 3
    It's clearly metaphorical. Since a piano doesn't have a brain, it can't have aphasia (a kind of brain damage that causes speech problems). It's likely just referring to a damaged piano that can't be played properly.
    – Billy Kerr
    Dec 2, 2023 at 11:22

1 Answer 1


It is a nonce expression, that is, there is (as far as I can tell) only a single example in written text (even if you consider the variant spelling "aphasic")

As such you can only guess at the meaning. Aphasiac means "unable to speak", so I suppose this is a piano that is unable to make any music.

From context, my best guess would be that the piano is part of the room's decor, and not intended to be played (and hence not tuned or maintained)

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .