"swift current in a river where the channel is descending," 1765, from French rapides (see rapid); applied by French voyagers to rough, swift-flowing reaches in North American rivers.
late 14c., grant "large, big" (early 12c. in surnames), from Anglo-French graunt and directly from Old French grant, grand (10c., Modern French grand) "large, tall; grown-up; great, powerful, important; strict, severe; extensive; numerous," from Latin grandis "big, great; full, abundant," also "full-grown;" figuratively "strong, powerful, weighty, severe," of unknown origin.
In Vulgar Latin it supplanted magnus and continued in the Romanic languages. The connotations of "noble, sublime, lofty, dignified," etc., were in Latin. In English it developed a special sense of "imposing." Meaning "principal, chief, most important" (especially in titles) is from 1560s; that of "of very high or noble quality" is from 1712. As a general term of admiration, "magnificent, splendid," from 1816. Related: Grander; grandest.
Grand jury is late 15c. Grand piano from 1797. The grand tour of the principal sites of continental Europe, as part of a gentleman's education, is attested by that name from 1660s. The Grand Canyon of the Colorado River in western U.S. was so called by 1869, popularized by Maj. John Wesley Powell, scientific adventurer, who explored it; earlier it had been known as Big Canyon. For grand slam see slam (n.2).
The extension of the sense to corresponding relationships of descent, "a generation younger than" (grandson, granddaughter) is from Elizabethan times. The inherited PIE root, *nepot- "grandchild" (see nephew) has shifted to "nephew; niece" in English and other languages (Spanish nieto, nieta). Old English used suna sunu ("son's son"), dohtor sunu ("son's daughter").