From sound to silence
Our modern word sound comes to us from three sources.
These first five meanings of the word sound started in Latin, then bounced around between Old French and Old English before finding themselves in Modern English.
As a noun, sound can mean:
-sensation sensed through the ear
As a verb, sound can mean:
-to be audible
-to cause an instrument to make sound
-to measure the depth of
The noun meaning a narrow channel or body of water didn't come from Latin at all. It came from the Old Norse word sund, which meant both swimming & strait.
The adjective form of sound meaning free from defect or injury came from an Old English word meaning safe, or having all faculties. This word was gesund, which, as you might have guessed, made its way into German to become gesundheit.
The term safe & sound showed up in the late 1400s. Sound-proof was born in 1853, ultrasound came about in 1911, sound barrier in 1939, sound effects in 1909, & sound check in 1977.
And the absence of sound is silence, a word that appeared in English in the 1200s from an unknown source through Latin & Old French.
Some silence-inspired meanings, words & idioms include:
-A Victorian idiom meaning the dead (1874)
-silencer - the mechanism that stifles the noise made by a firearm (1898)
-the strong silent type (1905)
-silent films (1914)
-the silent majority (1955)
And these two words together lead folks of a particular age to think of Paul Simon, whose “words like silent raindrops fell” in his 1965 hit song, “The Sound of Silence”.
As always, feel free to speak your mind in the comments section.
Big thanks to this week’s sources: Merriam-Webster, Wordnik, Etymonline, biography.com, & the OED.
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I write for teens, narrate audio books, bake bread, play music, and ponder the wonder of words in a foggy little town on California's central coast.
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