WORD FORMATION RESOURCE
Middle English soun, from Anglo-Norman French soun (noun), suner (verb), from Latin sonus. The form with -d was established in the 16th century. There are four different ‘sounds’ in English. The one relating to noise is from Latin sonus. Related words are dissonance (Late Middle English) ‘inharmonious’; resonance (Late Middle English) ‘echo, resound’; resonant (late 16th century); resound (Late Middle English); and sonorous (early 17th century). Sonar, however, is an acronym formed from Sound Navigation and Ranging on the pattern of radar. Sound, meaning ‘in good condition, not damaged or diseased’, is from Old English gesund. In Middle English the prominent sense was ‘uninjured, unwounded’. Use of sound to mean ‘having well-grounded opinions’ dates from the early 16th century; the phrase as sound as a bell appeared in the late 16th century. This puns on the first meaning of sound, and also on the fact that a cracked bell will not ring true. The third sound (Late Middle English) ‘ascertain the depth of water’ is from Old French sonder, based on Latin sub– ‘below’ and unda ‘wave’. The final one for a narrow stretch of water is Middle English from Old Norse sund ‘swimming, strait’, related to swim.
Old English swimman (verb), of Germanic origin; related to Dutch zwemmen and German schwimmen. The Old English epic poem Beowulf, probably written in the 8th century, is the first recorded source of swim. To sink or swim, ‘to fail or succeed entirely by your own efforts’, refers to the ducking of a woman suspected of witchcraft. It was not an attractive choice—either the woman sank and was drowned or she floated on the surface of the water and was therefore proven to be a witch. In the swim, meaning ‘in tune with the fashion’, first appeared in the late 19th century.