Merriam Webster says:

sound off
intransitive verb

  1. : to play three chords before and after marching up and down a line of troops during a ceremonial parade or formal guard mount
  2. : to count cadence while marching
  3. a : to speak up in a loud voice
    b : to voice one's opinions freely and vigorously

I guess that sense 1 is the original sense? Why is it called "sound off"? Does "sound off" literally mean turning sounds off?

How is sense 3 derived from the original meaning?

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    I’m voting to close this question because questions about etymology that haven't consulted a proper etymological dictionary don't satisfy the site's requirement to do basic research first.
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 2 at 15:28
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    The OED has the military band striking up (1909) and speaking loudly or forcefully (1918) meanings, but not the sense of counting cadences. Etymonline has nothing. So a full etymology is not trivial to find.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 3 at 9:53
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    Although Merriam-Webster suggests "off" can be used as an intensifier (finish off, drink off) so maybe that's what's happening here. And "sound off!" is better for shouting than "sound!" Particularly in the standard cadences of a drill instructor.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 3 at 9:55
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    @StuartF - in the UK, 'sound off' is often used to mean 'express opinions forcefully, esp. without being asked for them: He's always sounding off about having to pay so much in taxes Commented Jul 3 at 10:07
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    @Tim I said "the full OED". You start asking about etymologies, you go to an authoritative work based on historical principles. You don't attempt to drive a nail with a teacup. Such questions are better suited to english.stackexchange.com in any case.
    – TimR
    Commented Jul 3 at 11:35

1 Answer 1


Phrasal verb - sound off.

sound off.
intransitive verb.
a : to speak up in a loud voice.
b : to voice one's opinions freely and vigorously

How is sense 3 derived from the original meaning?

The phrasal verb, sound off is a phrasal verb that consists of two words: sound and off. Separating the words and analysing their meanings is an incorrect method. Let us consider the origin of sound off.

In the U.S. military. It was a method of taking attendance. Troops would proclaim their name or number + sound off.
Ref. https://www.forkunion.com/why-do-cadets-at-military-academies-chant-when-they-march/.

Today, "sound off" is commonly used figuratively, meaning "to speak up vociferously with one's (possibly unsolicited or unpopular) opinion."

  • Is this your own guesswork? It seems like a reasonable guess, but I think the OP is looking for something more official. Commented Jul 3 at 14:01
  • @AndyBonner It's what I got from Google search. I made it short. As per various sites, this is the origin of Meaning 3 asked by OP. forkunion.com/… Commented Jul 3 at 14:09
  • I suggest citing those "various sites," so that it's clear that it's not speculation, and so others can evaluate the sites themselves, which may just be doing their own speculation. This question seems very easy on its surface but is really very hard, since it asks for history, and since the phrase is not all that common and is often used in ways that are not well documented. Commented Jul 3 at 14:12

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