Reggae is a music genre first developed in Jamaica in the late 1960s. While sometimes used in a broader sense to refer to most types of Jamaican music, the term reggae more properly denotes a particular music style that originated following on the development of ska and rocksteady.
Reggae is most easily recognized by rhythmic accents known as the skank on the off-beat, usually played by guitar, piano, or both. This pattern accents the second and fourth beats in each bar--or the "ands" of each beat, depending on how the music is counted--and combines with the drum's emphasis on beat three to create a unique feel and sense of phrasing. This is in contrast to the way most other popular genres focus on beat one, the "downbeat". The tempo of reggae is usually felt as slower than the popular Jamaican forms ska and rocksteady, which preceded it. It is this slower tempo, the guitar/piano offbeats, the emphasis on the third beat, and the use of syncopated, melodic bass lines that differentiate reggae from other music, although other musical styles have incorporated some of these innovations separately.
The 1967 edition of the Dictionary of Jamaican English lists reggae as "a recently estab. sp. for rege", as in rege-rege, a word that can mean either "rags, ragged clothing" or "a quarrel, a row". Reggae as a musical term first appeared in print with the 1968 rocksteady hit "Do the Reggay" by The Maytals, but there are many different theories as to how the term originated. The music itself was faster than rocksteady, but tighter and more complex than ska, with obvious debts to both styles, while going beyond them both. Speaking to the term's origins, reggae artist Derrick Morgan stated:
We didn't like the name rock steady, so I tried a different version of 'Fat Man'. It changed the beat again, it used the organ to creep. Bunny Lee, the producer, liked that. He created the sound with the organ and the rhythm guitar. It sounded like 'reggae, reggae' and that name just took off. Bunny Lee started using the world [sic] and soon all the musicians were saying 'reggae, reggae, reggae'.
Reggae historian Steve Barrow credits Clancy Eccles with altering the Jamaican patois word streggae (loose woman) into reggae. However, Toots Hibbert said:
There's a word we used to use in Jamaica called 'streggae'. If a gal is walking and the guys look at her and say 'Man, she's streggae' it means she don't dress well, she look raggedy. The girls would say that about the men too. This one morning me and my two friends were playing and I said, 'OK man, let's do the reggay.' It was just something that came out of my mouth. So we just start singing 'Do the reggay, do the reggay' and created a beat. People tell me later that we had given the sound its name. Before that people had called it blue-beat and all kind of other things. Now it's in the Guinness World of Records.
Bob Marley is said to have claimed that the word reggae came from a Spanish term for "the king's music". The liner notes of To the King, a compilation of Christian gospel reggae, suggest that the word reggae was derived from the Latin regi meaning "to the king".