from P.Gmc. *swanaz
(cf. O.S. swan
, O.N. svanr
, M.Du. swane
, Du. zwaan
, O.H.G. swan
, Ger. Schwan
), probably lit. "the singing bird," from PIE base *swon-/*swen-
"to sing, make sound" (see sound
(n.1)); thus related to O.E. geswin
"melody, song" and swinsian
"to make melody." In classical mythology, sacred to Apollo and to Venus. The singing of swans before death was alluded to by Chaucer (late 14c.), but swan-song
(1831) is a translation of Ger. Schwanengesang.
A black swan
was proverbial for "something extremely rare or non-existent" (late 14c.), after Juvenal ["Sat."
vi. 164]. Swan dive
is recorded from 1898.