To harp on

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The phrase to harp on is an abbreviation of a longer idiom that was once popular. We will examine the definition of the phrasal verb to harp on, where it came from and some examples of its use in sentences.

To harp on something means to speak upon a certain subject endlessly, to dwell upon a certain topic in a monotonous and boring manner. Synonyms for the term to harp on that may be found in a thesaurus are: pester, nag, bother. The term to harp on is an abbreviation of a longer idiom that was at one time popular, but is rarely heard today. The entire idiom is to harp upon one string. The idea is that one has a range of topics to speak about, symbolized by the strings on a harp, but chooses to repetitively return to one topic until the listener is bored or exasperated. Related phrases are harps on, harped on, harping on. The word harp is derived from the Old English word hearpe, which in turn was derived from the German word harpfa and the Dutch word, harp. The harp is an instrument that has been in use for thousands of years, the best known ancient iteration is the Greek lyre harp, which was held in the lap. The story in which Nero fiddles while Rome burns most probably actually involves a lyre harp, though the story is probably not true at all. There are several different styles of harps available today, including the lap harp, lever harp or Celtic harp, as well as the pedal harp. A pedal harp is one in which the pitch is controlled by foot pedal, and is the type that is usually found in an orchestra. The harpist leans the instrument against her shoulder in order to play. Tuning harp strings involves turning the pegs that hold the strings in order to adjust the pitch. Often, harp music is used as an accompaniment to classical music, as well as folk or Celtic music. The harp may be part of an ensemble, and is either plucked or struck in order to play it. The harp is considered a stringed musical instrument. Other stringed instruments include the violin or fiddle, viola, cello, bass, lute, mandolin, zither, ukulele, guitar, banjo, harpsichord and piano.


The book doesn’t fetishize or harp on the image of Alan’s body, rarely succumbing to the pornography of pain so easily found in crisis reporting. (The Bowling Green Daily News)

Coaches and players have been careful not to harp on last year, which ended with zero wins against SEC opponents and the firing of coach Butch Jones. (The Daily Times)

Most curious of all was a column in Shukan Shincho (Aug. 30), one of the higher quality weeklies that does not habitually harp on conspiracy theories, even when they involve a belligerent nation. (The Japan Times)

“For us as an offensive line, that’s one thing we’re harping on this year is we didn’t run the ball very well sometimes last year,” Passmore said, “and that’s one of our major points we’re hitting.” (The Lynchburg News & Advance)