late 14c., "spoken, oral," from Old French vocal (13c.), from Latin vocalis "sounding, sonorous, speaking," as a noun, "a vowel," from vox (genitive vocis) "voice" (from PIE root *wekw- "to speak"). In reference to music (as opposed to instrumental), first recorded 1580s; meaning "outspoken" first attested 1871. Vocal cords is from 1872; see cord.
It forms all or part of: advocate; avocation; calliope; convocation; epic; equivocal; equivocation; evoke; invoke; provoke; revoke; univocal; vocabulary; vocal; vocation; vocative; vociferate; vociferous; voice; vouch; vox; vowel.
It is the hypothetical source of/evidence for its existence is provided by: Sanskrit vakti "speaks, says," vacas- "word;" Avestan vac- "speak, say;" Greek eipon (aorist) "spoke, said," epos "word;" Latin vocare "to call," vox "voice, sound, utterance, language, word;" Old Prussian wackis "cry;" German er-wähnen "to mention."
1803, "representing vocal sounds," from Modern Latin phoneticus (Zoega, 1797), from Greek phōnētikos "vocal," from phōnētos "to be spoken, utterable," verbal adjective of phōnein "to speak clearly, utter," from phōnē "sound, voice," from PIE root *bha- (2) "to speak, tell, say" (see fame (n.)). Meaning "relating or pertaining to the human voice as used in speech" is by 1861. Related: Phonetical.
1590s, "a 'vocal gesture' expressing the action of puffing anything away" [OED], used as an exclamation of dislike, scorn, or contempt, first attested in Hamlet Act I, Scene III, where Polonius addresses Ophelia with, "Affection! pooh! you speak like a green girl, / Unsifted in such perilous circumstance. / Do you believe his tenders, as you call them?" But the "vocal gesture" is perhaps ancient.
"pertaining to or characteristic of a chorus or choir," in music, "designed for vocal (as opposed to instrumental) performance," 1580s, from French choral or directly from Medieval Latin choralis "belonging to a chorus or choir," from Latin chorus (see chorus).