Meanings: “Know”

December 9, 2011

Another four letter Anglo-Saxon word, this one with a splendid pedigree and range:

know (v.) Look up know at Dictionary.com
O.E. cnawan (class VII strong verb; past tense cneow, pp. cnawen), “to know, perceive; acknowledge, declare,” from P.Gmc. *knew- (cf. O.H.G. bi-chnaan, ir-chnaan “to know”), from PIE base *gno- “to know” (cf. O.Pers. xšnasatiy “he shall know;” O.C.S. znati, Rus. znat “to know;” L. gnoscere; Gk. *gno-, as in gignoskein; Skt. jna- “know”). Once widespread in Germanic, this form is now retained only in English, where however it has widespread application, covering meanings that require two or more verbs in other languages (e.g. Ger. wissen, kennen, erkennen and in part können; Fr. connaître, savoir; L. novisse, cognoscere; O.C.S. znaja, vemi). The Anglo-Saxons used two distinct words for this, witan (see wit) and cnawan.

Meaning “to have sexual intercourse with” is attested from c.1200, from the Old Testament. To not know one’s ass from one’s elbow is from 1930. To know better “to have learned from experience” is from 1704. You know as a parenthetical filler is from 1712, but it has roots in 14c.

But do we still believe in knowing?

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About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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