What the …k?


I know what you’re thinking. You’re wondering why a writer, who once knew better words, would now only use 4-letter words to write in prose. And you suppose…

Anything goes.

Well you’re wrong. This is not about 4-letter words. There are 5-letter words here ; a 6-letter word and even a seven…

I’m going to stop now before I embarrass myself.

So what the …k is it with all these…

There you go again, thinking the worst of me.

As I was saying…

What the heck (heck I say, HECK!) is it with all these K words where you don’t pronounce the K? Such as know, knit, knot, knap, knee, knob, to say nothing of knave, kneel, knell, knead, knife, knoll, knock, knight, knuckle, knickers and even knickknacks (two for the price of one).

It seems K was originally pronounced. Knife was K-nife. Goodnight Good Knight said the Knave was Good night good K-night said the K-nave. K only fell silent around 1500 because English had moved from Middle to Modern.

The language had evolved from Anglo Saxon; a Germanic tongue. Increasingly, French became the Lingua Franca or universal language of the educated (the clue is in the name). Folks found it awkward to wrap their tongues around KN – originally written CN in Old English, as in King Cnut.

A bit ironic really, when you consider German and French started off as the same language. In the Dark Ages, around 450 AD, the Frankish Empire encompassed France and most of western Germany. Traditionally territory was split between the King’s sons when he died, so the empire eventually fragmented and the languages divided. German grew harsher; French softer: Ludwig versus Louis; Karl versus Charles; Frank versus François.

English has no need for the C-letter (as opposed to the C-word). We make do with K, as in cake, cat, call, can, cap and the occasional S, as in ceiling, cede and exception. I’m no linguist but apparently Germanic languages such as Modern German, Dutch, Danish and Swedish still pronounce our now silent K.

And now you can thank me for winning you the pub quiz.


See also:

Trivial Pursuits

That Takes the Biscuit

Deus ex Macina

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