1782, in the modern sense of "parchment-covered hoop with pieces of metal attached;" earlier "a small drum" (1570s), from French tambourin "long narrow drum used in Provence," diminutive of tambour "drum," altered by influence of Arabic tunbur "lute," from Old French tabour (see tabor).
The sense evolutions present some difficulties, and in some 17c. and early 18c. references it is difficult to say what sort of instrument is intended. Earlier names for this type of instrument were tambour de basque (1680s), also timbre and timbrel. Tambour itself is attested in English from late 15c., and Shakespeare has tabourine.
updated on January 13, 2014