Thursday, August 02, 2012

Who Gnu?



Jack asked if there’s any rhyme or reason connecting words that begin with KN-. A quick perusal of the Oxford English Dictionary and The American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots reveals some patterns.

The Greek word γνύξ (gnux) binds together knee, kneecap, kneel, kneeler, and the like.

Knave and knight originally referred to a young lad.

A number of words refer to cognition or perception. They include know, knew, known, knowledge, knowledgeable, and similar forms. They are indebted to the Greek root γνω- (gno-), which meant to perceive and to recognize.

The Indo-European root [g(e)n- inspired many Germanic words beginning in kn- that found their way into Old English. The basic meanings involve compressed materials, bumps, projections, and sharp blows. That ties the following words together:
  • knap: a small knoll
  • knead: to work moistened flour into a lump of dough
  • knell: the sound made by a bell when struck
  • knife: a cutting instrument
  • knit: to tie or fasten with a knot
  • knob: a small rounded lump or mass
  • knock: a stroke or thump
  • knoll: rounded top of a hill
  • knot: a secure, tight tie in a rope, string, etc.
  • knout: a whip or scourge
  • knuckle: the rounded protuberance in a bent bone joint
And you might want to put knackwurst in your knapsack. Both have at their core the meaning to strike, snap, or bite off a piece. It turns out that a knapsack is a snack pack.

Available from McFarland & Co.: Word Parts Dictionary, 2nd edition
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