THE AMATEUR WORD NERD: Volume? It’s one for the books, so we hear

By Barbara McAllister

Word of the Day: Volume
The word volume, as measurement, is directly related to the word volume as in a book. The word comes from the original Latin “volvere,” which is “to turn around,” and described a rolled parchment or manuscript. It’s the root of “revolve” (to turn around), “evolve” (the act of unrolling) and “convolute” (roll together). As “volume” developed from manuscript to book and eventually, part of a set of books, the meaning expanded to indicate size or mass, to reflect the bulk of a bound book or set of books. The word book itself, as referring to a written document, is thought to have come from the German word buche, for “beech tree,” the theory being ancient runes were initially inscribed on beechwood tablets. Trees also figure into the Latin word for writing, librum, which originally referred to the inner bark of trees. It evolved into the modern French word livre, for book, and is related to “library,” “libel” and “bibliography.” “Leaf” and “leaflet” are additional tree-inspired words to refer to the pages of a book or a small pamphlet, but the Latin origins of the terms are less clear.
“Volume” also progressed from how much space a three-dimensional object occupied to include the magnitude of sound, literally the quantity of air waves that reach our ears. Sound intensity or sound pressure is measured in units called decibels, named for Alexander Graham Bell, the inventor of the telephone and the audiometer, the machine used to measure hearing.
As volume became a word applied to many things, not just rolled manuscripts and books, names developed for measuring all kinds of entities. Assorted articles could now be measured in units like decibels, gallons, pecks, demiards, hogsheads or kilderkins. (A kilderkin is equal to 2 firkins.) More recently you’ll find sydharbs, Australia’s official measurement for a large volume of water. One sydharb is roughly the amount of water in Sydney harbor during high tide, or 500 gigalitres. I’m guessing that’s about 15 mainegulfs.