c. 1400, deschaunt, "a counterpoint added to a given melody," from Anglo-French deschaunt, Old French deschant, from Medieval Latin discantus "refrain, part-song," from Latin dis- "asunder, apart" (see dis-) + cantus "song, a singing; bird-song," from past participle stem of canere "to sing" (from PIE root *kan- "to sing").
The English spelling was partly Latinized in 16c., but it is an exception for its retention of des- in English. It is attested from 1560s in the sense of "the art of composing part-music," also "the upper part or voice." It is attested from 1570s as "a warbled song, a song with various modulations." The transferred sense of "a continued discourse or series of comments on a subject" is recorded from 1590s.
A metaphor taken from musick, where a simple air is made the subject of a composition, and a number of ornamented variations composed upon it. [Hensleigh Wedgwood, "A Dictionary of English Etymology," 1859]
mid-15c., discanten, "to run a variety with the voice in harmony with a musical theme, sing in counterpoint," from descant (n.). Sense of "to comment at length, make copious and varied comments" is attested by 1640s.
updated on August 19, 2020
Dictionary entries near descant