Walking in the country the other day, I heard the report of a shotgun. I started to wonder why this word is used. Merriam-Webster has report:-

  1. An explosive noise: the report of a rifle.

and the etymology as:-

[Middle English, from Old French, from reporter, to report, from Latin reportāre : re-, re- + portāre, to carry; see per- in Indo-European roots.]

This doesn't to me have any suggestion of loud bang in it anywhere. So why is report used to mean the noise of a firearm? Does anything other than a firearm emit a report?

  • May be like transmission (conveyance or transfer) of matter, information or energy.
    – Narasimham
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 16:46

4 Answers 4


The two are, in fact, related.

The original Latin (re- + portāre, to carry;), as you note in your question, is at the root of this.

Sound is said to carry sometimes. As in:

There were a lot of families in the hotel, and they were noisy. The sound carried into the rooms very easily.

Thus, we're talking about, not the actual sound, but the act of it carrying over a distance. There's always some distance involved. As in:

They heard the report of a distant cannon.

A reporter is someone who carries the news (his or her report) from where the event occurred to where the public wishes to hear, read, or see it (at any gentlemanly distance).


The meaning of report as a "resounding noise, sound of an explosion" dates back to the 1580s.

Its prior meaning dates back to the late 1300s, and meant:

"an account brought by one person to another, rumor," from Old French report "pronouncement, judgment" (Modern French rapport), from reporter "to tell, relate" (see report (v.)).

It seems the report of a firearm came into being because if one only heard the sound of the firearm being shot, and did not see the firearm being shot, that the firearm was shot remains a rumor.

It wasn't until the 1660s that a report was a "formal statement of results of an investigation."

(Online Etymology Dictionary)

  • And the French essentially means carry back.
    – Drew
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 20:48

I remember reading somewhere—don't ask me where—that the word came about from the fact that gunfire is very loud and so often echoes. The sound gets bounced around, reverberating and carrying, and it being so loud, like thunder, people far away could see the shot, or whatever it was being shot, get shot before they actually heard the shot. Thus, hearing the shot after seeing the shot, people called it a report.

  • transmission, conveyance or transfer of matter, information or energy.
    – Narasimham
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 16:45

Let me guess! the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word report is 1. A written account of something you have observed or witnessed. 2. A oral definition of an incident after it happened. 3. The imperative usage "Report to my office at once!"

Well report simply means the outcome or the summary of something happened. So sound or a loud noise is the outcome of the gunfire anyway, apart from the heat and casualty.

  • 3
    Don't guess... the real answer is already posted.
    – JDługosz
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 12:19
  • If I could downvote, I would
    – cat
    Commented Jan 6, 2016 at 21:45

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