or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Sunday, December 02, 2007


Reader Frank writes, regarding yesterday's posting:

Does "kink" derive from this group of words? I ask just because it's so close to the IE "kenk-" they derive from.

Although the sound is similar, the sense isn't, and that's almost always the key in etymology. "Kink" is unrelated to "cinch" and the other "kenk-" words. Instead, it's straight from seventeenth-century Dutch, which is unsurprising, because it began its life as a nautical term, and the Dutch in that age were great seafarers: we get quite a few of our boaty words from them, such as "keelhaul" and "yacht".

A kink started out its life as a twist in a rope. The sense of another sort of twist or bend, the human kind, came somewhat later, in the early nineteenth century, but it had no sexual connotations: it simply meant a strange idea. The obvious adjectival form "kinky" meant merely "eccentric" in the late 19th century; the "sexually offbeat" or "perverted" sense came somewhat later, and is first attested to in print in 1959.

As to where it came from, the best guess is that it's from an Old Norse word, "kikna", which means "to bend at the knee"; the last two consonants clearly must have been transposed at some point in a process called metathesis. (Metathesis can also swap sounds rather than letters, which is why "iron" is pronounced as if it were spelled "iorn" and why some people pronounce "nuclear" as if it were spelled "nucular".)

Doesn't "kikna" remind you of anything? Doesn't it sound like English "kick", "to strike with the foot", which it's nearly impossible to do without bending the knee? It should be clear that "kick" is a direct descendent of "kikna", and yet that doesn't seem to be the case. The OED doesn't know where "kick" comes from and doesn't even speculate, so I'm not going to, either.


Blogger Frank said...

Thanks, pyramus. It's always nice to have my etymological questions answered! *LOL*

Sunday, December 02, 2007 10:13:00 PM  
Blogger pyramus said...

My pleasure! I aim to please, and it's always nice to have something else to write about.

Monday, December 03, 2007 5:01:00 PM  

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