- diminutive suffix, first attested late 12c. in proper names adopted from Flanders and Holland, probably from Middle Dutch -kin, properly a double-diminutive, from -k + -in. Equivalent to German -chen. Also borrowed in Old French as -quin, where it usually has a bad sense.
This suffix, which is almost barren in French, has been more largely developed in the Picard patois, which uses it for new forms, such as verquin, a shabby little glass (verre); painequin, a bad little loaf (pain); Pierrequin poor little Pierre, &c. ["An Etymological Dictionary of the French Language," transl. G.W. Kitchin, Oxford, 1878]
Used in later Middle English with common nouns. In some words it is directly from Dutch or Flemish.
- Roman letter, from Greek kappa, ultimately from Phoenician and general Semitic kaph, said to be literally "hollow of the hand," so called for its shape. For more on the history of its use, see see C. As a symbol for potassium, it represents Latin kalium "potash." Slang meaning "one thousand dollars" is 1970s, from kilo-. As an indication of "strikeout" in baseball scorekeeping it dates from 1874, said to be from last letter of struck, perhaps because first letter already was being used as abbreviation for sacrifice. The invention of the scorecard symbols is attributed to U.S. newspaperman Henry Chadwick (1824-1908) of the old New York "Clipper."
Smith was the first striker, and went out on three strikes, which is recorded by the figure "1" for the first out, and the letter K to indicate how put out, K being the last letter of the word "struck." The letter K is used in this instance as being easier to remember in connection with the word struck than S, the first letter, would be. [Henry Chadwick, "Chadwick's Base Ball Manual," London, 1874]
K as a measure of capacity (especially in computer memory) or number (especially of salary), meaning "one thousand" is an abbreviation of kilo.
- k.p. (n.)
- "kitchen duty," 1935, apparently short for kitchen police (duties), itself attested from 1933 as part of Boy Scouting and other camping activities; the expression's sense sometimes shifted to kitchen patrol (1940) during World War II.
- Kaaba (n.)
- 1734, Caaba, cube-shaped building in the Great Mosque of Mecca, containing the Black Stone, from Arabic ka'bah "square house," from ka'b "cube."
- kabbalah (n.)
- see cabbala.
- kabuki (n.)
- 1896, from Japanese, popular theater (as opposed to shadow puppet-plays or lyrical Noh dramas), literally "art of song and dance," from ka "song" + bu "dance" + ki "art, skill" [Barnhart, OED]. Alternative etymology (in Webster's) is from nominal form of kabuku "to be divergent, to deviate," from early opinion of this form of drama. Since c.1650, all parts are played by males.
- capital of Afghanistan, named for its river, which carries a name of unknown origin.
- Berber of Algeria and Tunisia, 1738, also of their language, from French, from Arabic qaba'il, plural of qabilah "tribe."
- kaddish (n.)
- "doxology of the Jewish ritual," 1610s, from Aramaic qaddish "holy, holy one," from stem of q'dhash "was holy," ithqaddash "was sanctified," related to Hebrew qadhash "was holy," qadhosh "holy." According to Klein, the name probably is from the second word of the text veyithqaddash "and sanctified be."
- kaffeeklatsch (n.)
- "gossip over cups of coffee," 1877, from German Kaffeeklatsch, from kaffee "coffee" (see coffee) + klatsch "gossip" (see klatsch).
THE living-room in a German household always contains a large sofa at one side of the room, which is the seat of honor accorded a guest. At a Kaffeeklatsch (literally, coffee gossip) the guests of honor are seated on this sofa, and the large round table is wheeled up before them. The other guests seat themselves in chairs about the table. [Mary Alden Hopkins, "A 'Kaffeeklatsch,'" "Boston Cooking-School Magazine of Culinary Science and Domestic Economics," May 1905]
- Kaffir (n.)
- 1790, from Arabic kafir "unbeliever, infidel, impious wretch," with a literal sense of "one who does not admit the blessings of God," from kafara "to cover up, conceal, deny, blot out." Technically, "non-Muslim," but in Ottoman times it came to be used almost exclusively for "Christian." Early English missionaries used it as an equivalent of "heathen" to refer to Bantus in South Africa (1792), from which use it came generally to mean "South African black" regardless of ethnicity, and to be a term of abuse since at least 1934.
- Kafkaesque (adj.)
- 1947, resembling situations from the writings of Franz Kafka (1883-1924), German-speaking Jewish novelist born in Prague, Austria-Hungary. The surname is Czech German, literally "jackdaw," imitative.
- kafuffle (n.)
- variant of kerfuffle.
- Mexican coffee-flavored liqueur, produced from 1936, the name said to be from the native Acolhua people, allies of the Aztecs.
- kahuna (n.)
- 1886, in a report in English by the Hawaiian government, which defines the word as "doctor and sorcerer," from Hawaiian, where it was applied as well to priests and navigators. In surfer slang, for "a god of surfing," it is attested from 1962 (but big kahuna in same sense is said to date from 1950s.
- kaiser (n.)
- "an emperor," Old English casere, fallen from use after Middle English, but revived 1858 in reference to the German emperors of Austria and, after 1870, Germany, from German Kaiser, from Bavarian and Austrian spelling of Middle High German keisar, from Old High German keisar "emperor," an early borrowing of Latin cognomen Caesar. The Germanic and Slavic peoples seem to have called all Roman emperors "caesar" (compare Old English casere, Old Norse keisari). Said to be the earliest Latin loan word in Germanic.
- kakistocracy (n.)
- 1829, "government by the worst element of a society," coined on analogy of its opposite, aristocracy, from Greek kakistos "worst," superlative of kakos "bad" (which perhaps is related to the general IE word for "defecate;" see caco-) + -cracy.
- Kalashnikov (n.)
- type of rifle or submachine gun made in the U.S.S.R., 1968, from Russian Kalashnikov, weapon developed in Soviet Union c.1946 and named for Mikhail Kalashnikov, gun designer and part of the team that built it. In AK-47, the AK stands for Avtomat Kalashnikov.
- kale (n.)
- also kail, c.1300, alternative form of cawul (c.1200), surviving in this spelling after Middle English as a Scottish variant of cole "cabbage" (see cole-slaw). Slang meaning "money" is from 1902.
- kaleidoscope (n.)
- 1817, literally "observer of beautiful forms," coined by its inventor, Scottish scientist David Brewster (1781-1868), from Greek kalos "beautiful" (see Callisto) + eidos "shape" (see -oid) + -scope, on model of telescope, etc. They sold by the thousands in the few years after their invention, but Brewster failed to secure a patent.
Figurative meaning "constantly changing pattern" is first attested 1819 in Lord Byron, whose publisher had sent him one. As a verb, from 1891. A kaleidophone (1827) was invented by English physicist Sir Charles Wheatstone (1802-1875) to make sound waves visible.
- kaleidoscopic (adj.)
- 1820, from kaleidoscope + -ic. Figurative use by 1855.
- a name of Devi, the Hindu mother-goddess, in her death-goddess aspect, 1798, from Sanskrit kali, literally "the black one," fem. of kalah "blue-black, black," from a Dravidian language. Also taken as the fem. of kala "time" (as destroyer). She is portrayed as black-skinned, blood-smeared, and wearing a necklace of skulls and a girdle of snakes.
- Kama Sutra
- also Kamasutra, 1874, from Sanskrit Kama Sutra, name of the ancient treatise on love and sexual performance, from kama "love" (see whore) + sutra (see sutra).
- Siberian peninsula, named for a native people, the Kamchadal, from Koriak konchachal, said to mean "men of the far end."
- Japanese for "superior, lord," a title given to governors, also used of deities; the word chosen by Japanese converts and Protestant missionaries to refer to the Christian god.
- kamikaze (n.)
- "suicide flier," 1945, Japanese, literally "divine wind," from kami "god, providence, divine" (see kami) + kaze "wind." Originally the name given in folklore to a typhoon which saved Japan from Mongol invasion by wrecking Kublai Khan's fleet (August 1281). The attacks began in October 1944 off the Philippines.
As an aside, at war's end, the Japanese had, by actual count, a total of 16,397 aircraft still available for service, including 6,374 operational fighters and bombers, and if they had used only the fighters and bombers for kamikaze missions, they might have realized, additionally, 900 ships sunk or damaged and 22,000 sailors killed or injured. In fact, however, the Japanese had outfitted many aircraft, including trainers, as potential suicide attackers. As intelligence estimates indicated, the Japanese believed they could inflict at least 50,000 casualties to an invasion force by kamikaze attacks alone. [Richard P. Hallion, "Military Technology and the Pacific War," 1995]
As an adjective by 1946.
- name taken by Cambodia after the communist takeover in 1975, representing a local pronunciation of the name that came into English as Cambodia.
- kanaka (n.)
- U.S. nautical and Australian name for "native of South Sea islands," 1840, from Hawaiian kanaka "man" (Samoan tangata).
- kangaroo (n.)
- 1770, used by Capt. Cook and botanist Joseph Banks, supposedly an aborigine word from northeast Queensland, Australia, usually said to be unknown now in any native language. However, according to Australian linguist R.M.W. Dixon ("The Languages of Australia," Cambridge, 1980), the word probably is from Guugu Yimidhirr (Endeavour River-area Aborigine language) /gaNurru/ "large black kangaroo."
In 1898 the pioneer ethnologist W.E. Roth wrote a letter to the Australasian pointing out that gang-oo-roo did mean 'kangaroo' in Guugu Yimidhirr, but this newspaper correspondence went unnoticed by lexicographers. Finally the observations of Cook and Roth were confirmed when in 1972 the anthropologist John Haviland began intensive study of Guugu Yimidhirr and again recorded /gaNurru/. [Dixon] Kangaroo court is American English, first recorded 1850 in a Southwestern context (also mustang court), from notion of proceeding by leaps.
- kanji (n.)
- "Chinese ideographs that make up the bulk of Japanese writing," 1920, from Japanese kan "Chinese" + ji "letter, character."
- named for the river, which is named for the native people, from French variant of Kansa, native name of the Siouan people who lived there (1722). It is a plural (see Arkansas). Established as a U.S. territory in 1854, admitted as a state 1861. Related: Kansan.
- Kantian (adj.)
- 1796, of or pertaining to German thinker Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) or his philosophy.
- kaolin (n.)
- "china clay," 1727, from French kaolin (1712), from Chinese Kao-ling, old-style transliteration of the name of a mountain in Jiangxi, China (near which it was originally dug up), from Chinese gao "high" + ling "mountain, hill."
- kapellmeister (n.)
- "conductor," 1838, German, literally "chapel master," from Kapelle "chapel" (also the name given to a band or orchestra) + Meister "master."
- kapok (n.)
- 1735, from Malay kapoq, name of the large tropical tree which produces the fibers.
- tenth letter of the Greek alphabet, from an Aramaized form of qoph; see K.
- kaput (adj.)
- 1895, "finished, worn out, dead," from German kaputt, probably a misunderstanding of the phrase capot machen, a partial translation of French faire capot, literally "to make a bonnet," a phrase said in some etymological sources to mean "lose all the tricks in piquet" an obsolete card game. Popularized during World War I.
"Kaput" -- a slang word in common use which corresponds roughly to the English "done in," the French "fichu." Everything enemy was "kaput" in the early days of German victories. [F. Britten Austin, "According to Orders," New York, 1919]
From French capot, literally "cover, bonnet," also the name of a type of greatcloak worn by sailors and soldiers, and faire capot also meant in French marine jargon "to overset in a squall when under sail." The card-playing sense attested in German only from 1690s, but capot in the transferred sense of "destroyed, ruined, lost" is attested from 1640s. [see William Jervis Jones, "A Lexicon of French Borrowings in the German Vocabulary (1575-1648)," Berlin, de Gruyter, 1976]. In Hoyle and other English gaming sources, faire capot is "to win all the tricks," and a different phrase, être capot, "to be a bonnet," is sometimes cited as the term for losing them. The sense reversal in German in the card-playing term might be explained because if someone wins all the tricks someone else has to lose them, and the same word capot, when it entered English from French in the mid-17c. meant "to score a cabot against; to win all the tricks from."
"There are others, says a third, that have played with my Lady Lurewell at picquet besides my lord; I have capotted her myself two or three times in an evening." [George Farquhar (1677-1707), "Sir Harry Wildair"]
- karabiner (n.)
- coupling device, 1932, shortened from German karabiner-haken "spring hook."
- karaoke (n.)
- 1979, Japanese, from kara "empty" + oke "orchestra," shortened form of okesutora, which is a Japanization of English orchestra.
- karat (n.)
- variant of carat (q.v.). In U.S., karat is used for "proportion of fine gold in an alloy" and carat for "weight of a precious stone."
- karate (n.)
- 1955, Japanese, literally "empty hand, bare hand," from kara "empty" + te "hand." A devotee is a karateka.
- Karen (1)
- Mongoloid people of Burma, 1759, from Burmese ka-reng "wild, dirty, low-caste man" [OED].
- Karen (2)
- fem. proper name, Danish shortened form of Katherine. Rare before 1928; a top-10 name for girls born in the U.S. 1951-1968.
- see Carl.
- karma (n.)
- 1827, in Buddhism, the sum of a person's actions in one life, which determine his form in the next; from Sanskrit karma "action, work, deed; fate," related to krnoti, Avestan kerenaoiti "makes," Old Persian kunautiy "he makes;" from PIE root *kwer- "to make, form," related to the second element in Sanskrit (see terato-).
- karmic (adj.)
- 1883, from karma + -ic.
- karoo (n.)
- "barren table land in South Africa," 1789, said to be from a Hottentot word.
- karst (n.)
- name of a high, barren limestone region around Trieste; used by geologists from 1894 to refer to similar landforms. The word is the German form of Slovenian kras.
- kart (n.)
- 1959, short for go-kart (see go-cart).
- before vowels kary-, word-forming element used since c.1874 in biological terms referring to cell nuclei, from Greek karyon "nut, kernel," possibly from PIE root *kar- "hard" (see hard (adj.)).