Etymology of the name K by etymonline (2024)

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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]

Entries linking to K

C

third letter of the Latin alphabet. Alphabetic writing came to Rome via the southern Etruscan "Caeretan" script, in which gamma was written as a crescent. Early Romans made little use of Greek kappa and used gamma for both the "g" and "k" sounds, the latter more frequently, so that the "k" sound came to be seen as the proper one for gamma. Classical Latin -c-, with only the value "k," passed to Celtic and, via missionary Irish monks, to the Anglo-Saxons. Also see cee.

In some Old English words, before some vowels and in certain positions, -c- had a "ts" sound that was respelled ch- in Middle English by French scribes (chest, cheese, church; see ch). In Old English -k- was known but little used.

Meanwhile, in Old French, many "k" sounds drifted to "ts" and by 13c., "s," but still were written -c-. Thus the 1066 invasion brought to the English language a flood of French and Latin words in which -c- represented "s" (as in cease, ceiling, circle) and a more vigorous use of -k- to distinguish that sound. By 15c. even native English words with -s- were being respelled with -c- for "s" (ice, mice, lice).

In some English words from Italian, the -c- has a "ch" sound (via a sound evolution somewhat like the Old French one). In German, -c- in loanwords was regularized to -k- or -z- (depending on pronunciation) in the international spelling reform of 1901, which was based on the Duden guide of 1880.

As a symbol in the Roman numeral system, "one hundred;" the symbol originally was a Greek theta, but was later reduced in form and understood to stand for centum. In music, it is the name of the keynote of the natural scale, though the exact pitch varied in time and place 18c. and 19c. from 240 vibrations per second to 275; it wasn't entirely regularized (at 261.63) until the adoption of the A440 standard in the 1930s. C-spring as a type of carriage spring is from 1794, so called for its shape.

potassium(n.)

metallic element, 1807, coined by English chemist Sir Humphry Davy from Modern Latin potassa, Latinized form of potash (q.v.). Davy first isolated it from potash. The chemical symbol K is from Latin kalium "potash," from Arabic al-qaliy "the ashes, burnt ashes" (see alkali). Related: Potassic.

    kappastrikekh-kilo-kn-See all related words (7) >

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Trends of K

adapted from books.google.com/ngrams/. Ngrams are probably unreliable.

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strikeMiddle English striken, from Old English strican (past tense strac, past participle stricen) "pass lightly over, stroke, smooth, rub" (senses now obsolete), also "go, move, proceed, make one's way," from Proto-Germanic *strikanan (source also of Old Norse strykva "to stroke," Old
jet1690s, "to sprout or spurt forth, shoot out," from French jeter "to throw, thrust," from Late Latin iectare (abstracted from deiectare, proiectare, etc.), in place of Latin iactare "to toss about," frequentative of iacere "to throw, cast," from PIE root *ye- "to throw, impel." Mi
greenOld English grene, Northumbrian groene "green, of the color of living plants," in reference to plants, "growing, living, vigorous," also figurative, of a plant, "freshly cut," of wood, "unseasoned" earlier groeni, from Proto-Germanic *grōni- (source also of Old Saxon grani, Old F
finickyThe -k- between the final -c- and a suffix beginning in -i, -y, or -e is an orthographic rule to mark the pronunciation of...-c- as "k" (compare picnicking, trafficking, panicky, shellacked)....
chOld English still was written with a simple -c-, and into those that had formerly been spelled with a -c- and pronounced "k"...Most uses of -ch- in Roman Latin were in words from Greek, which in Greek would be pronounced correctly as /k/ + /h/, as...in modern blockhead, but most Romans would have said merely /k/, and this was the regular pronunciation in English....
Prakritbefore, forward, forth" (from PIE root *per- (1) "forward," hence "before") + krta- "to make, do, perform," from PIE root *k(...
cruxBut de Vaan is suspicious: The Celtic and Gm. forms are often reconstructed as *kr(e)u-k-, but we find vacillating vocalism...words in *kruk- from Latin and Italo-Celtic belong together, the root structure does not look PIE (and a root enlargement k...
M13th letter of the English alphabet, from Greek mu, from Semitic mem. It represents a very stable and unchanging sound in Indo-European, described by Johnson as "a kind of humming inward." The Roman symbol for 1,000; sometimes used in this sense in English 15c.-16c.; but in late
grandlate 14c., grant "large, big" (early 12c. in surnames), from Anglo-French graunt and directly from Old French grant, grand (10c., Modern French grand) "large, tall; grown-up; great, powerful, important; strict, severe; extensive; numerous," from Latin grandis "big, great; full, a
thousand"10 times one hundred; the number which is ten times one hundred; a symbol representing this number;" Old English þusend, from Proto-Germanic *thusundi (source also of Old Frisian thusend, Dutch duizend, Old High German dusunt, German tausend, Old Norse þusund, Gothic þusundi). R

updated on September 25, 2018

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Dictionary entries near K

juvenilityJuventusjuxtaposejuxtapositionjynx

K

k.p.ka-*ka-Kaabakabbalah
Etymology of the name K by etymonline (2024)

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