Usage of terminology is not uniform across the English-speaking world (see below). In more modern usage, the playback device is often called a "turntable", "record player", or "
record changer". When used in conjunction with a
mixer as part of a
DJ setup, turntables are often called "decks".
The term phonograph ("sound writing") was derived from the
Greek words φωνή (phonē, "sound" or "voice") and γραφή (graphē, "writing"). The similar related terms gramophone (from the Greek γράμμα gramma "letter" and φωνή phōnē "voice") and graphophone have similar root meanings. The roots were already familiar from existing 19th-century words such as
photograph ("light writing"),
telegraph ("distant writing"), and
telephone ("distant sound"). The new term may have been influenced by the existing words phonographic and phonography, which referred to a system of phonetic
shorthand; in 1852
The New York Times carried an advertisement for "Professor Webster's phonographic class", and in 1859 the New York State Teachers Association tabled a motion to "employ a phonographic recorder" to record its meetings.
Arguably, any device used to record sound or reproduce recorded sound could be called a type of "phonograph", but in common practice the word has come to mean historic technologies of
sound recording, involving audio-frequency modulations of a physical trace or groove.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, "Phonograph", "Gramophone", "Graphophone", "Zonophone" and the like were still
brand names specific to various makers of sometimes very different (i.e. cylinder and disc) machines; so considerable use was made of the generic term "talking machine", especially in print. "Talking machine" had earlier been used to refer to complicated devices which produced a crude imitation of speech, by simulating the workings of the vocal cords, tongue, and lips – a potential source of confusion both then and now.
British English, "gramophone" may refer to any sound-reproducing machine using
disc records, which were introduced and popularized in the UK by the
Gramophone Company. Originally, "gramophone" was a proprietary
trademark of that company and any use of the name by competing makers of disc records was vigorously prosecuted in the courts, but in 1910 an English court decision
 decreed that it had become a generic term; it has been so used in the UK and most Commonwealth countries ever since. The term "phonograph" was usually restricted to machines that used
"Gramophone" generally referred to a wind-up machine. After the introduction of the softer
vinyl records, 33 1⁄3-rpm LPs (long-playing records) and 45-rpm
"single" or two-song records, and EPs (extended-play recordings), the common name became "record player" or "turntable". Often the home record player was part of a system that included a radio
(radiogram) and, later, might also play audiotape
cassettes. From about 1960, such a system began to be described as a "hi-fi" (high-fidelity,
monophonic) or a "stereo" (most systems being
stereophonic by the mid-1960s).
American English, "phonograph", properly specific to machines made by Edison, was sometimes used in a generic sense as early as the 1890s to include cylinder-playing machines made by others. But it was then considered strictly incorrect to apply it to
Emile Berliner's upstart Gramophone, a very different machine which played discs. "Talking machine" was the comprehensive generic term, but in the early 20th century the general public was increasingly applying the word "phonograph" indiscriminately to both cylinder and disc machines and to the records they played.
By the time of the First World War, the mass advertising and popularity of the
Victor Talking Machine Company's
Victrolas (a line of disc-playing machines characterized by their concealed horns) was leading to widespread generic use of the word "victrola" for any machine that played discs, which were however still called "phonograph records" or simply "records", almost never "victrola records".
After electrical disc-playing machines started appearing on the market during the second half of the 1920s, usually sharing the same cabinet with a radio receiver, the term "record player" was increasingly favored by users when referring to the device. Manufacturers, however, typically advertised such combinations as "radio-phonographs". Portable record players (no radio included), with a latched cover, were fairly common as well, especially in schools and for children and teenagers.
In the years following the
Second World War, as "hi-fi" (high-fidelity,
monophonic) and, later, "stereo" (
stereophonic) component sound systems slowly evolved from an exotic specialty item into a common feature of American homes, the description of the record-spinning component as a "record changer" (which could automatically play through a stacked series of discs) or a "turntable" (which could hold only one disc at a time) entered common usage. By about 1980 the use of a "record changer", which might damage the stacked discs, was widely disparaged. So, the "turntable" emerged triumphant and retained its position to the end of the 20th century and beyond. Through all these changes, however, the discs have continued to be known as "phonograph records" or, much more commonly, simply as "records".
The brand name Gramophone was not used in the USA after 1901, and the word fell out of use there, although it has survived in its nickname form, Grammy, as the name of the
Grammy Awards. The Grammy trophy itself is a small rendering of a gramophone, resembling a Victor disc machine with a taper arm.
Modern amplifier-component manufacturers continue to label the input jack which accepts the output from a modern magnetic pickup cartridge as the "phono" input, abbreviated from "phonograph".
Boy and toy record player, 1920s
Australian English, "record player" was the term; "turntable" was a more technical term; "gramophone" was restricted to the old mechanical (i.e., wind-up) players; and "phonograph" was used as in