The Sound

So I did a little research on the origin of the noun “sound.” I’ve always been curious why the bodies of water between the Outer Banks and the mainland of North Carolina were called “sounds.” Based on, the word derives from many sources, including Latin, Old English, Old French, Old Irish, Old  Norse, Sanskrit and Proto-Indo-European. The word looked similar in many languages: soun, son, sonus, swonos, swen, svanati, svanah. It basically was used to mean “noise” or “sound,” with interesting variations. In Old Irish, the word senim meant “the playing of an instrument.” In Old English, the word geswin meant “music, song,” swinsian meant “to sing,” and swan meant “swan” or “the sounding bird.” The Sanskrit word svanati meant “it sounds.” Note all of the “S” sounds–the best letter to indicate sound, perhapssss?

“Sound” can also be an adjective: I am of sound body and mind, for instance. For a cool bit of trivia, the post-sneezing interjection “gesundheit” comes from the German word gesund which means “healthy” and has origins in the Old English word gesund meaning “sound, safe, healthy.” I suppose we are telling the person who’s sneezing “be sound of body!” In other words, don’t get sick, or get me sick either.

Around 1300 Norse people starting using sund to mean “narrow channel of water” and “a strait, swimming.” It doesn’t seem much of a stretch to see how people meshed  “sounds” and “songs” with “bodies of water.” What makes a more delightful sound than bodies of water? Whether it’s crashing with force, rushing along the sides of a water craft, trickling along rocks and marsh grasses, or cascading down mountains, water sounds wonderful to our human ears. It is nature’s “song,” the earth’s “instrument.” It makes us feel “sound” in our bodies and souls.

I understand now. THE SOUND indeed. Have you ever seen the sun set over an Outer Banks sound? I can recall one such sunset from the window of Aqua Restaurant in Duck. Over a delicious meal and good bottle of wine, my husband and I watched as the sun slowly made its way into the lavendar clouds and waters of the western Currituck Sound.  If you are in the right frame of mind, you feel that such events are happening just for you, that the world is just that lovely and kind of a place. Usually, when I’m in that sound frame of mind, I am somewhere near water. Go figure!

I imagine that in the future, whenever I write “Albemarle Sound” or “Roanoke Sound” or “Pamlico Sound,” I’ll be thinking of the world’s people who’ve come before me, who’ve appreciated water and its sounds just as much as I do now.  Who knew word origin study could be so interesting?

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