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OED:

6. to sound in damages: in legal use, to be concerned only with damages. Also to sound in tort, to sound in contract, etc.

1780 M. Madan Thelyphthora II. 153 There is not one [change] which does not sound in damages, as our lawyers speak.

  1. Which homonym and false cognate listed in Etymonline (below) fits 'sound'? Is this actually a third?

v1: early 13c., sounen "to be audible, produce vibrations affecting the ear," from Old French soner (Modern French sonner) and directly from Latin sonare "to sound, make a noise," "to sound," from PIE *swene-, from root *swen- "to sound." From late 14c. as "cause something (an instrument, etc.) to produce sound." Related: Sounded; sounding.

v2: "fathom, probe, measure the depth of," mid-14c. (implied in sounding), from Old French sonder, from sonde "sounding line," perhaps from the same Germanic source that yielded Old English sund "water, sea" (see sound (n.2)). Barnhart dismisses the old theory that it is from Latin subundare. Figurative use from 1570s. 2. How did 'sound' (v. 1 or 2) semantically shift to mean 'to be concerned only with'?

A couple of examples from English judges

Contract Law: Text, Cases, and Materials (2018 8 ed) p. 93.

...The law simply imposes an obligation on the party who made the request to pay a reasonable sum for such work as has been done pursuant to that request, such an obligation sounding in quasi contract or, as we now say, in restitution.

Anson's Law of Contract (2016 30 ed). p. 180.

In the Investors Compensation Scheme case: [...]

The exclusion from assignment clause, ‘Any claim (whether sounding in rescission for undue influence or otherwise)’ was interpreted as if it had read, ‘Any claim sounding in rescission (whether for undue influence or otherwise)’. This construction meant that only claims for rescission, and not for damages, against the building societies were excluded from the assignment.

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  • I'd suggest "resonates" followed by a common-law restriction. For example, a claim was resonant for money damages rather than compensation in kind, etc. – Pat W. Apr 20 at 15:48
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My guess is that legal usage of sounding arose by working backward from the notion of a case being "heard" by a court for purposes of resolving a particular claim. Here is the first part of the entry for hearing in Black's Law Dictionary, fourth edition (1968):

HEARING. Proceeding of relative formality, generally public, with definite issues of fact or of law to be tried, in which parties proceeded against have right to be heard, and is much the same as a trial and may terminate in final order. [Citations omitted.] Synonymous with trial, and includes reception of evidence and arguments thereon. [Citation omitted.] It is frequently used in a broader and more popular significance to describe whatever takes place before magistrates clothed with judicial functions and sitting without jury at any stage of the proceeding subsequent to its inception, and may include proceedings before an auditor. [Citations omitted.]

A hearing, understood broadly, is thus a proceeding at which any suit or claim is brought to a magistrate or judge for adjudication. It is no great stretch, then, to suppose that sounding is the aspect of a claim that, under law, merits a hearing by a magistrate. Here is the entry for "sounding in damages" in Black's Law Dictionary:

SOUNDING IN DAMAGES. When an action is brought, not for recovery of lands, goods, or sums of money, (as is the case in real or mixed actions or the personal action of debt or detinue,) but for damages only, as in covenant, trespass, etc., the action is said to be "sounding in damages." [Citations omitted.]

In other words, when a plaintiff brings a case to court for a hearing on the subject of damages, the plaintiff's action "sounds" in the hearing in relation to the subject that the law narrowly deems appropriate for that action. A suit for trespass, for example, would sound in damages (the appropriate compensation for the tort of trespass under law) but would not sound in replevin (recovery of lost goods) because a suit for trespass is not the appropriate action to file if the outcome desired is restoration of unlawfully taken property. The hearing is strictly attuned to the sounding that makes sense in connection with the type of compensation sought.

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