last tweaked 02 April 2004

The gn- combination seems to be mostly confined to the effects of friction and forceful grinding; most of the gn- words have some such meaning. It's fitting, too, because that's the kind of harsh, grinding sound that comes when the gn- is pronounced. In Standard English, the g became silent, much as the k in kn- did.

also :
nosh : to eat in little bites; to eat in small, scattered amounts

There are a few non-Germanic sources for gn- words. For instance, the derivatives of the Greek gnosis (to know), cousins to our English word 'know' :

Also, these words :


And now, the kn- words. They have Indo-European roots, reflected mostly in Germanic and (in gn- forms) Greek.

Some of these have to do with knobs, lumps, bumps or clots. I'll clump them together first:


Another group of these words have to do with striking, hitting, pressing or making a percussive sound:

also :

There are assorted others as well, which may or may not be related to the above:


There are a handful of Germanic-rooted words that were hn- at the time of Old English and Old Norse. Like gn- and kn-, they started out with a khn- type sound, then the kh- reduced to a breath (hence hn- forms), then disappeared. In the case of hn-, it was lost even in the spelling by the Middle English period. In sound, the same path was taken by all three combinations, just at different times in history : first hn-, then gn- and kn-.

For those into the word origins of gn- & kn-, I have a tentative page for it. If you have any comments or corrections for any of this stuff, send me a note.

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