Knight, knife, and “kn” words

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11 comments on this post.
  1. Katie Baker:

    I think “congradulations” might be intentional–a kind of pun or portmanteau word (Humpty Dumpty or was it the Caterpillar?)

  2. Charlize Dawson:

    What’s this is carried on your back when you go walking, what’s the kn word for that please tell me kn word for that??

  3. Ricka:

    Knapsack. But this word is not used much anymore. Instead we use backpack.

  4. Ellen:

    Thanks for this explanation! My 7 yr old asked me today why the words “knee” and “know” had a “k” that we didn’t pronounce. Now I have the answer!

  5. LEX:

    There’s a lot more to this story.

    There’s not a “silent k” in “knight” any more than there’s a “silent t” in “this.” What there is is a “kn” digraph, like there’s a “th” digraph in “this.” The kn digraph is etymologically driven — driven by the history of the words and the history of English, but there’s still more.

    Words that start with the kn digraph fall into two camps. There’s the word “know” and its family (knowing, knows, knew, knowledge, etc.). I’ll get to that later.

    The rest of the words that start with a kn have to do historically with something that is sticking out or something that is stick-shaped. Knee, knuckle, knoll, knob, knot — all of these are protuberances. Knitting involves making little knots. Knickers are work at the knees. A knife is stick shaped. Etc. The words “knight” and “knave” historically referred just to young boys, who were considered to be stick-shaped, as opposed to broad-shouldered, grown men.

    I am not making this up.

    The word “know” and its family bear a different kind of relationship to other words that explain its spelling. The “kn” in “know” is related historically to the word “can” — the /k/ and /n/ pronunciation in that word is related to the historical /kn/ pronunciation in the Old English verb cnawan, the root of “know.” The “kn” in “know” also marks a relationship to the “gn” in words like diagnose, Gnostic, agnostic, cognition, recognize, ignorant, and many more — this broad word family all has to do with knowing or not knowing.

    Folks who would like to know more about this should check out my website:

  6. Alex:

    hmmm seems the site does not take greek letters ??????/???????/???? refers to gnosi/gignosko/gnomi ….

  7. Bram:

    English may be described as “lazy German” in so many instances…….

  8. Mo Newman:

    And in French we have “canif” for a penknife!

  9. Vernon Doria:

    Seems that if we can drop the pronunciation of the K in Knife, knot, knit, etc. when we are saying the word, we could also drop it in the spelling and make it easier to spell, as we have made it easier to say, i.e., nife, not, nit. Before you say we get into the confusion of not or no (instead) of know, etc., don’t forget that there are plenty of words in the English language that work that way and context is important like read and read (red). Just saying.

  10. Benjamin:

    Yay! For Fractured Fairy Tales and Bullwinkle and Rocky the Flying Squirrel!?

  11. admin:

    Yep. Actually, there are at least four other columns (and a few comments) on this site that mention Rocky & his friends. You can find them by searching for “Bullwinkle” in the search box on the upper left of the page. In one of those columns, there’s even a sound link to Bullwinkle uttering one of *his* most-cited comments:


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