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Bob and Silent K

John W. Pinkerton

oldjwpinkerton@gmail.comRob Longenecker

I was perusing my Facebook account the other day to see if any of my “friends” had anything interesting to contribute to my day.  “Friends” are in quotation marks because I feel that Facebook's use of the word “friend” diminishes its value.  After all, these “friends” are more likely to be friendly acquaintances than friends as we've traditionally interpreted the word.  But I digress.

I did find one post which caught my attention: “Got my first cortisone injection in my right knee for arthritis today.  Left knee will be done on Friday. (Not a painful procedure.)  It made me ask though---who decided the word 'knee' needed to begin with 'k'?”

Oh my Gawd!  A fellow traveler.  Well, you see, I too seem to be sidetracked by questions which to other folks are not worth asking or answering, and Bob---we'll refer to him as Bob to protect his identity---after all, I really don't know the fellow other than the fact that he seems friendly, and I wouldn't want to infringe on his privacy.

“Who decided the word 'knee' needed to begin with 'k',” and more broadly, how did the silent K ever happen in the first place?

I did my research, and like the Second World War, we can mainly blame it on the Germans.  The following is a partial list of English words that begin with a silent K: knack, knackwurst, knapsack, knave, Bob’s knee, kneel, knickerbockers, knickknack, knife, knight, knit, knob, knock, knoll, knot, know, knowledge, knuckle.

I've discovered that a lot of these words have a Germanic origin.  It turns out that the “K” was not always silent when it first became part of the English language, but the Englishmen didn't like the hard clicking “K” sound and simply dropped it but not the letter; whereas, the Germans still pronounce the “K.”  Those Germans are not alone: the Scots held on to the k sound like good Scotsmen are wont to do.  By the way, when Chaucer was writing, he would have pronounced the “K.”

Words beginning with KN can usually be traced back to the Germans---words such as Bob's “knee.”

On the other hand, some words have retained the pronunciation of the k sound; these are usually sir names: NASCAR crew chief, Chad Knaus and the the First Lady, Melania (Knauss) Trump.  By the way, the Israeli Parliament  is a knish, not a nish.

Now, Bob, we both know the origin of the silent “K” in “knee.”  The Germans created the “K,” the Scots retained it, and the English, being lazy or efficient, dropped it.  You're welcome, Bob.