Etymology
Advertisement
powder (n.)

 "fine, minute, loose, uncompacted particles," c. 1300, poudre, "ash, cinders; dust of the earth;" early 14c. of any pulverized substance; from Old French poudre "dust, powder; ashes; powdered substance" (13c.), earlier pouldre (11c.), from Latin pulverem (nominative pulvis) "dust, powder" (source also of Spanish polvo, Italian polve; see pulverize).

The insertion of the unetymological -d- was common in French (compare meddle, tender (adj.), remainder). German has it as a doublet; Puder via French and Pulver from Latin. From mid-14c. specifically as "medicinal powder;" specialized sense of "gunpowder" is from late 14c. In the sense "powdered cosmetic," it is recorded from 1570s.

Powder keg "small barrel for holding gunpowder" is by 1820; the figurative sense ("something likely to explode easily") is by 1895. Powder room, euphemistic for "women's lavatory," is attested from 1936. Earlier it meant "place where gunpowder is stored on a warship" (1620s). Powder monkey "boy employed on ships to carry powder from the magazines to the guns" is from 1680s. Powder blue (1650s) was smalt used in laundering; as a color name from 1894.

The phrase take a powder "scram, vanish," is from 1920; it was a common phrase as a doctor's instruction, so perhaps the notion is of taking a laxative medicine or a sleeping powder, with the result that one has to leave in a hurry (or, on another guess, from a magician's magical powder, which makes things disappear).

Avis dropped an exhausted little heap onto her aunt's bed. She put her hand over her heart and said piteously, "Oh, Aunt Joyce, I mustn't ever do that again. My heart's going awful fast. I shall have to take a powder. Wasn't it fun though-" Avis' dark eyes flashed. [from "The Evolution of Avis" in The Connecticut School Journal, Jan. 9, 1902]
When the wife of your breast has confessed she has drest
   On just triple the sum you allowed her,
And has run up long bills for her frocks and her frills—
   Take a powder, my friend, take a powder.
[from "The Panacaea," in Punch, Dec. 14, 1901]

Powder in the wind (c. 1300, meaning powdered spices) was a Middle English image of something highly valued but flawed in some way that renders it impermanent or doomed to loss (of virtues without humility, etc.).

Related entries & more 
Advertisement
powder (v.)

c. 1300, poudren, "to put or sprinkle powder on;" late 14c., "to make into powder," from Old French poudrer "to pound, crush to powder; strew, scatter," from poudre (see powder (n.)). Specifically as "to whiten cosmetically by some application of white material in powder form" is from 1590s. Related: Powdered; powdering.

Related entries & more 
powder-horn (n.)

"powder flask made of horn (usually of an ox or cow) with a movable stopper at the small end," 1530s, from powder (n.) + horn (n.). 

Related entries & more 
powder-puff (n.)

1704, "small feathery ball (of swansdown, etc.) for applying powder to the skin," from powder (n.) + puff (n.). As a symbol of femaleness or effeminacy, by 1930s. 

Related entries & more 
powdery (adj.)

"of the nature or consistency of powder," early 15c., poudri, from powder (n.) + -y (2).

Related entries & more 
Advertisement
gunpowder (n.)

"explosive powder for the discharge of projectiles from guns," early 15c., from gun (n.) + powder (n.). The Gunpowder Plot (or treason or conspiracy) was a plan to blow up the Houses of Parliament on Nov. 5, 1605, while the King, Lords and Commons were assembled there in revenge for the laws against Catholics (see guy (n.2)).

Related entries & more 
piepowder (n.)

early 13c., pe-poudre, "wayfarer, itinerant merchant, etc.," folk etymology alteration of Old French pie pouldre or Medieval Latin pede-pulverosus, both literally "dusty-footed." The first element is from Latin pedem "foot" (from PIE root *ped- "foot"); for second element see powder (n.)). Often in reference to an old court of record in England held at fairs and markets.

Related entries & more 
sound (n.1)

"noise, what is heard, sensation produced through the ear," late 13c., soun, from Old French son "sound, musical note, voice," from Latin sonus "sound, a noise," from PIE *swon-o-, from root *swen- "to sound."

The unetymological -d was established c. 1350-1550 as part of a tendency to add -d- after -n-. Compare gender (n.), thunder (n.), jaundice (n.), spindle, kindred, riband, and, from French powder (n.), meddle, tender (adj.), remainder, dialectal rundel, rundle for runnel, etc. First record of sound barrier is from 1939. Sound check is from 1977; sound effect is 1909, originally live accompaniment to silent films.

The experts of Victor ... will ... arrange for the synchronized orchestration and sound effects for this picture, in which airplane battles will have an important part. [Exhibitor's Herald & Moving Picture World, April 28, 1928]
Related entries & more 
talcum (n.)

1550s, from Medieval Latin talcum, used for any of various shiny minerals. See talc. Talcum powder attested from 1871.

Related entries & more 
kohl (n.)

"powder used to darken the eyelids, etc.," properly of finely ground antimony, 1799, from Arabic kuhl (see alcohol).

Related entries & more