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According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the exclamation 'Zounds!' comes from the phrase 'God's wounds'. This seems to suggest that the original pronunciation rhymed with 'wounds' rather than 'hounds'. Does anyone know if that is the case?

  • This may be trickier than you suppose. Some pronunciations have diverged so it is possible that 'hounds' and 'wounds' did rhyme at one point. I suspect that both would have rhymed with the way we currently pronounce 'honed'. I think this is a non-trivial research project so I'll stop at this point. – chasly from UK Aug 3 '15 at 17:48
  • @chaslyfromUK: you're quite right that the pronunciation has diverged. However, both "hounds" and "wounds" used to have more of an "oo" sound as in "goose," not the sound of "honed." You may be confusing the "ou" digraph that was taken from French to represent the long /uː/ sound with the one used in words like "soul" that represented a diphthong /ɔu̯/. (These two digraphs were spelled the same but pronounced differently even in Midde English). – herisson Aug 3 '15 at 17:52
  • There is already a related question you might want to look at, although I can't find an answer that has a sourced description of the "original pronunciation": english.stackexchange.com/questions/24026/… – herisson Aug 3 '15 at 17:56
  • @sumelic - I think you might find that it's not that simple. In the Britain of today the pronunciation of words such as 'goose' varies appreciably according to local accent. As StoneyB has demonstrated there are variations in the pronunciation of 'zounds' itself. In any case, that's why I said I would stop. My point was that it's not a simple question. Your comment confirms that! :-) – chasly from UK Aug 3 '15 at 18:04
  • @chaslyfromUK: oh, that's also very true. The "goose" vowel is actually often fairly different from a canonical IPA /uː/, so it's probably better to leave the pronunciation details out. – herisson Aug 3 '15 at 18:09
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At the time this imprecation was common wound was variously pronounced, with either /ɑu/ or /uː/, so both pronunciations are attested. OED 1 reports these spellings: ‹zownes›, ‹zoones›, ‹'zons›, ‹zons›, ‹dzownds›, ‹sownds›, ‹zwounds›, ‹zauns›, ‹'zoons›, ‹zoons›, ‹'dzwounds›, and ‹zounds›


Regular sound change would call for wound to end up the same as bound and found and sound, as indeed the participle did; but the rounded /w/ at the front interfered with this development. The language didn't settle on /wuːnd/ until the 18th century; in the 16th and 17th centuries both were available. Compare R&J, at the artificial boundary between 'II.i' and 'II.ii':

BEN:             ’tis in vain
To seek him here that means not to be found.
ROM: He jests at scars that never felt a wound.

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    I don't know if the /w/ can really account for wound not rhyming with bound, because as the past tense of wind, wound does rhyme with bound. – Marthaª Aug 3 '15 at 18:10
  • @Marthaª I was adding a note to that effect even as you wrote. I imagine that one factor which drove the /uː/ pronunciation was contrast with the participle. – StoneyB on hiatus Aug 3 '15 at 18:13
  • @Marthaª: maybe the past tense was influenced by analogy from other verbs with a vowel change, like "bind-bound." – herisson Aug 3 '15 at 18:16
  • @Martha: The /w/ does horrible things to vowels: consider war and car, warm and farm, word and cord, wash and cash, wad and cad, wan and can. Its effects are also somewhat inconsistent (consider swan, swam, wag, wan) so I have no doubt that it could account for wound. – Peter Shor Aug 3 '15 at 20:00
  • @PeterShor: My dictionary lists "wan" and "swan" as having the LOT vowel. Isn't that consistent? "Wag" is part of a known class of exceptions, patterning with "swag" or "quack." – herisson Aug 3 '15 at 22:25
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In theatrical productions the pronunciation "zoondz" is often used.

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