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alto (n.)

1784, "man with an alto voice," literally "high," from Italian alto (canto), from Latin altus "high," literally "grown tall," from PIE root *al- (2) "to grow, nourish." Originally a man's high voice; now more commonly applied to the lower range of women's voices (which is more strictly the contralto), an extension recorded by 1848. So called because higher than the tenor, which in old music had the melody.

The alto in a man is totally distinct from the contralto in a woman. The tone is utterly different — the best notes of the one are certainly not the best notes of the other; and although in certain cases a contralto may sing with good effect music written for a male alto (e.g. in some oratorios), yet the converse is scarcely ever true. ["How to Sing," 1890]

As a type of saxophone, from 1869. Also an old name for the viola (1833), from Italian.

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Definitions of alto from WordNet
1
alto (n.)
a singer whose voice lies in the alto clef;
alto (n.)
the lowest female singing voice;
Synonyms: contralto
alto (n.)
the highest adult male singing voice;
Synonyms: countertenor
alto (n.)
(of a musical instrument) the second highest instrument in a family of musical instruments;
alto (n.)
the pitch range of the lowest female voice;
2
alto (adj.)
of or being the lowest female voice;
Synonyms: contralto
alto (adj.)
of or being the highest male voice; having a range above that of tenor;
Synonyms: countertenor
alto (adj.)
(of a musical instrument) second highest member of a group;
alto clarinet or recorder
From wordnet.princeton.edu