eleventh Roman letter, from Greek kappa, from Phoenician kaph or a similar Semitic source, said to mean literally "hollow of the hand" and to be so called for its shape.
Little used in classical Latin, which at an early age conformed most of its words (the exceptions had ritual importance) to a spelling using -c- (a character derived from Greek gamma). In Late Latin, pronunciation of -c- shifted (in the direction of "s"). Greek names brought into Latin also were regularized with a -c- spelling, and then underwent the Late Latin sound-shift; hence the modern pronunciation of Cyrus, Circe. To keep their pronunciation clear, the many Greek words (often Church words) that entered Latin after this shift tended to take Latin -k- for Greek kappa.
K- thus became a supplementary letter to -c- in Medieval Latin, used with Greek and foreign words. But most of the languages descended from Latin had little need of it, having evolved other solutions to the sound shifts.
K- also was scarce in Old English. After the Norman conquest, new scribal habits restricted -c- and expanded the use of -k-, which began to be common in English spelling from 13c. This probably was done because the sound value of -c- was evolving in French and the other letter was available to clearly mark the "k" sound for scribes working in English. For more, see C.
In words transliterated from Arabic, Hebrew, Turkish, Japanese, Hawaiian, etc., it represents several different sounds lumped. In modern use some of them are now with kh-; in older borrowings they often followed traditional English spelling and were written with a C- (Corea, Caaba, etc.).
As a symbol for potassium, it represents Latin kalium "potash." In CMYK as a color system for commercial printing it means "black" but seems to stand for key in a specialized printing sense. Slang meaning "one thousand dollars" is 1970s, from kilo-. K as a measure of capacity (especially in computer memory) meaning "one thousand" also is an abbreviation of kilo-.
As an indication of "strikeout" in baseball score-keeping it dates from 1874 and is said to represent the last letter of struck. The invention of the scorecard symbols is attributed to English-born U.S. newspaperman Henry Chadwick (1824-1908) principally of the old New York "Clipper," who had been writing baseball since 1858, and who explained it thus:
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]
capital of Afghanistan, named for its river, which carries a name of unknown origin.
1947, resembling such situations as are explored in the fiction of Franz Kafka (1883-1924), German-speaking Jewish novelist born in Prague, Austria-Hungary. The surname is Czech German, literally "jackdaw," and is imitative.
Mexican coffee-flavored liqueur, produced from 1936, the name said to be from the native Acolhua people, allies of the Aztecs.
type of rifle or submachine gun, 1968, from Russian Kalashnikov, name of a weapon developed in the 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.
a name of Devi, the Hindu mother-goddess, in her black-skinned death-aspect, 1798, from Sanskrit kali, literally "the black one," fem. of kalah "blue-black, black," a word from a Dravidian language. Also taken as the fem. of kala "time" (as destroyer).
Siberian peninsula, 1730, named for a native people, the Kamchadal, from Koryak (Chukotko-Kamchatkan) konchachal, which is said to mean "men of the far end" [Room]. Related: Kamchatkan.
name taken by Cambodia after the communist takeover in 1975, representing a local pronunciation of the name that came into English as Cambodia. Related: Kampuchean.
Siouan people of the American Midwest, 1806, from French, a variant of Kansa (itself in English from 1722), from /kká:ze, a Siouan term referring to members of the Dhegiha branch of the Siouan family. Compare Arkansas. The Siouan word is a plural. Established as a U.S. territory in 1854 and named for the river, which is named for the people; admitted as a state 1861. Related: Kansan; Kansian, used by Whitman and a few others, seems not to have thrived.