Words related to kn-


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]

initial consonant combination used in Old English (the Clark Hall dictionary has 82 entries under cn-), but not now admitted in speech, the n- only being sounded. In Middle English spelling all were lost or turned to kn-. It also is retained in the spelling of some Latinized words from Greek, where initial kn- was common.

consonant cluster at the head of some words; the -g- formerly was pronounced. Found in words from Old English (gnat, gnaw), in Low German, and Scandinavian as a variant of kn- (gneiss), in Latin and Greek (gnomon, gnostic) and representing sounds in non-Indo-European languages (gnu).
knack (n.)
mid-14c., "a deception, trick, device," a word of uncertain origin. Perhaps from or related to a Low German word meaning "a sharp sounding blow" (compare Middle English knak, late 14c.; German knacken "to crack;" also knap) and of imitative origin. Sense of "special skill" (in some specified activity) is first recorded 1580s, if this is in fact the same word. In old slang (mid-18c. to mid-19c.) nacky meant "full of knacks; ingenious, dexterous." For pronunciation, see kn-.
knap (v.)
"to strike with a sharp sound," late 15c., echoic. Earlier (c. 1400) as a noun meaning "abrupt stroke." Especially "to chip or break by a sharp blow" (1530s), the sense shifting from the sound to the act that makes it. Especially of the method of sharpening flints from 1862. Related: Knapped; knapper; knapping. For pronunciation, see kn-.
knave (n.)

late Old English cnafa "boy, male child; male servant," from Proto-Germanic *knabon- (source also of Old High German knabo "boy, youth, servant," German knabe "boy, lad"); it is also probably related to Old English cnapa "boy, youth, servant," Old Norse knapi "servant boy," Dutch knaap "a youth, servant," Middle High German knappe "a young squire," German Knappe "squire, shield-bearer." Original sense unknown; Klein suggests the prehistoric meaning might have been "stick, piece of wood." For pronunciation, see kn-.

Sense of "rogue, rascal" is first recorded c. 1200, presumably via sense evolution from "a menial" to "one of low birth," and the low character supposed to be characteristic of such a condition. But through Middle English it kept also its non-pejorative meaning, as in knave-child (Scottish knave-bairn) "male child." In playing cards, "the lowest court card," 1560s.

Previously, the English equivalent of the French valet was normally known as Knave, in the sense of 'serving-lad'. In the seventeenth century it came to be called Jack, from the name properly applied to the Knave of trumps at All Fours. All Fours being a low-class game, the use of 'Jack' for 'Knave' was long considered vulgar. ('He calls the Knaves Jacks!', remarks Estella contemptuously in Dickens's Great Expectations.) When indices came in, it was obviously preferable to use 'J' rather than 'Kn' to avoid confusion with 'K' for King. Jack has since become the normal title of the lowest court, though 'Knave' can still be heard. [David Parlett, "A History of Card Games," 1991]
knead (v.)
Old English cnedan "to knead, manipulate by squeezing or pressing," from Proto-Germanic *knedan (source also of Old Saxon knedan, Middle Dutch cneden, Dutch kneden, Old High German knetan, German kneten, Old Norse knoða "to knead"). Originally a strong verb (past tense cnæd, past participle cneden). For pronunciation, see kn-. The evolution of the vowel is unusual. Related: Kneaded; kneading.
knee (n.)

"joint between the principal bones of the leg," Old English cneo, cneow "knee," from Proto-Germanic *knewa- (source also of Old Norse kne, Old Saxon kneo, Old Frisian kni, Middle Dutch cnie, Dutch knie, Old High German kniu, German Knie, Gothic kniu), from PIE root *genu- (1) "knee; angle." For pronunciation, see kn-.

To be across (someone's) knee in reference to spanking is from 1866. Knee-breeches is from 1827; knee-pants is from 1858. Knee-slapper "funny joke" is from 1955.

knell (n.)
Old English cnyll "sound made by a bell when struck or rung slowly," from knell (v.). Compare Dutch knal, German knall, Danish knald, Swedish knall. The Welsh cnull "death-bell" appears to be a borrowing from English. For vowel evolution, see bury. For pronunciation, see kn-.
knife (n.)
"hand-held cutting instrument consisting of a short blade and handle," late Old English cnif, probably from Old Norse knifr "knife, dirk," from Proto-Germanic *knibaz (source also of Middle Low German knif, Middle Dutch cnijf, German kneif), a word of uncertain origin. To further confuse the etymology, there also are forms in -p-, such as Dutch knijp, German kneip. French canif "penknife" (mid-15c.) is probably of Germanic origin, perhaps from Frankish. For pronunciation, see kn-.