Word Origin & History
O.E. sawol "spiritual and emotional part of a person, animate existence," from P.Gmc. *saiwalo (cf. O.S. seola, O.N. sala, O.Fris. sele, M.Du. siele, Du. ziel, O.H.G. seula, Ger. Seele, Goth. saiwala), of uncertain origin. Sometimes said to mean originally "coming from or belonging to the sea," because
that was supposed to be the stopping place of the soul before birth or after death. Hence, from P.Gmc. *saiwaz (see sea
). Meaning "spirit of a deceased person" is attested in O.E. from 971. As a synonym for "person, individual" (e.g. every living soul) it dates from c.1320. Soulmate (1822) is first attested in Coleridge. Soul-searching (n.) is attested from 1948, from the phrase used as a pp. adj. (1612).
"instinctive quality felt by black persons as an attribute," 1946, jazz slang, from soul
(1). Soulful "full of feeling" is attested from 1863. Hence Soul music, essentially gospel music with "girl" in place of "Jesus," etc., first attested 1961; William James used the term
in 1900, in a spiritual/romantic sense, but in ref. to inner music. Also from this sense are soul brother (1957), soul food (1957), etc.