Vocabulary Rocks! K is for…

Vocabulary Rocks! K is for…

Continuing the quest to cover the alphabet! That may prove impossible due to the vast number of words in the English language, but I can try to find a few fascinating examples. For a list of all my archived posts covering the topic: VOCABULARY


(noun) - 1821, German. The discomfort and illness experienced as the aftereffects of excessive drinking; a hangover.

Literally "wailing of cats, misery of cats," from katzen, combining form of katze "cat" + jammer "distress, wailing."


The Chinese invented ke-tsiap in the 1690s. It was a concoction of pickled fish and spices, but no tomatoes oddly enough. By the early 1700s its popularity had spread to Malaysia, where British explorers first encountered it. By 1740, the sauce’s name had morphed into ketchup and as such was an English staple already becoming popular in the American colonies.

Ketchup made with tomatoes wasn’t invented until the 1790s when New England colonists first mixed tomatoes into the sauce. It is unknown exactly why tomatoes were mixed into what was by that time a hugely popular sauce, or who first altered the recipe, but the when can be deduced historically. You see, the tomato is a close relative of the toxic belladonna and nightshade plants, so for most of the 18th Century people assumed tomatoes were poisonous! Thank goodness the truth was revealed or we might have to eat french fries and hamburgers without tomato ketchup!


Kowtow found its way into English in 1804 thanks to British explorer-author Sir John Barrow in his book Travels in China. The word is an adaptation of the picturesque Chinese word k’o-t’ou or koutou, from k’o or kou meaning “to knock, bump” and t’ou or tou, meaning “head.”

The ancient Chinese custom of touching one’s forehead to the ground in an expression of deep respect and utter submission was a cultural sign of highest esteem. It was widely used to show deference to one’s elders, superiors, and especially the Emperor, as well as for religious and cultural objects of worship. The modern meaning of “to fawn or act with deference; to act obsequiously” is a reduced usage with negative connotations not included in the original, Chinese definition.


As one of many slang nouns for a person’s “buttocks or ass,” keister dates to 1931 with the first recorded use in an American Speech article on criminal slang. At about this same time, keister appeared in a so-called “Tijuana bible” comic book series of pornographic material. A panel drawing of a naked man and woman doing … well, you know what … has the man saying, “Come on—wave that kiester [sic].”

By the 1950s, keister (the correct spelling) had made its way into general slang and mainstream humor. All well and good, but where did the now-rather-tame euphemism for one’s ass come from?

From roughly 1880, keister (from British dialect kist) meant a “chest or box” —probably from the German Kiste with the same meaning. The English application was of a satchel or traveling suitcase, particularly one with a lock and securing straps, but also referred to a safe or strongbox. In German, the slang use of Kiste for “buttocks” dates to 1906, predating keister, but from the same evolution and seemingly related, as far as researchers can ascertain since much is speculative.

Keister in its original meaning appears to have primarily been a term of the underworld, specifically of the locking toolkits used by burglars. It was also pickpocket slang, although the precise use is uncertain. The idea may have come from a thief stealing out of a mark’s luggage (even if he/she was sitting on it), or stealing the wallet (a small type of satchel) from a man’s rear pocket. If either of these (or both) is correct, it is easy to glean how the posterior part of a body comes into play!

The connection of keister to the seedier elements of society is seen from the outset, the first recorded English use of the word was in the October 1881 edition of the National Police Gazette listing a “small army of confidence operators” one of who went by the alias “Keister Bob.” Every recorded use of keister for the subsequent thirty-some-odd years was either of a criminal or the strongbox they used. In a 1924 glossary of criminal slang titled Keys to Crookdom are found the following entries—

Harnessed box. Safe protected by steel bars and levers across front. Also known as harnessed keister.

Keister. Bars on certain type of safe. A handbag that can be strapped and locked.

However the morphing exactly transpired, keister has long since been obsolete amongst the thieving underbelly and as an alternate for one’s suitcase! Instead, it remains a delightfully funny word choice along with heinie, bum, patootie, and booty.


Kiosk in English is from the 1620s as a “kind of open pavilion” (made of light wood, etc., often supported by pillars), from the French kiosque, which is (along with German and Polish kiosk) from Turkish koshkkiöshk meaning a “pavilion, summer house,” and from Persian kushk meaning “palace, villa; pavilion, portico.”

These mini-buildings date to ancient times, as the Trajan Kiosk pictured below, and were introduced in Western Europe in the 17th century as ornaments in gardens and parks. The evolution of kiosk as a street newsstand came in 1865, a resemblance of form perhaps originally in France. The modern sense was influenced by British telephone kiosks in 1928, such as the example to the right located in Suffolk.

Trajan Kiosk, also Pharoah’s Bed, a temple structure on Agilkia Island in Egypt, dates to the 1st century.


Khaki Field Uniform for Officers: 1898-1900

Khaki was brought into English via the colonization of India, it being from the Urdu (language of Pakistan and Nepal) word khak, meaning “dust or dusty.” Khaki first appears in English in the latter half of the 19th century as a reference to the color of army uniforms.

Khaki was first worn in the Corps of Guides that was raised in December 1846 by Henry Lawrence, an agent to the Governor-General for the North-West Frontier. Initially the border troops were dressed in their native costume, but in 1848, a khaki uniform was introduced. Subsequently, all regiments, whether British or Indian, serving in the region had adopted khaki uniforms for active service and summer dress.

From a July 21, 1857 letter by an H.B. Edwardes:

The whole of the troops here are dressed in khâkee.

Within a few decades, the word was being applied to a twilled cloth of cotton or linen of that color from which uniforms were made. From E.S. Bridges’ 1879 Round the World in 6 Months:

The troops here are dressed in khaki … It is a kind of strong brown holland, and appears to me to be made of flax.

By the end of the century, khaki was used to denote a British soldier, not just the clothes he wore. The United States Army adopted khaki colored uniforms during the Spanish–American War (1898), replacing their traditional blue field uniforms. Over time the term was applied to colors with a darker brown tone and green hues, although no one argues that true khaki is the traditional light brownish-beige color. After WWII, military style trousers crept into civilian wear, the looser fitting garments made from chino cloth twill still to this day called khakis or chinos, regardless of the color.

The History of Khaki: Anything but Drab



(noun) - An abnormal condition in which the outer surfaces of the nails are concave; a spoon nail.



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I knew all but the weird words! I learnt German at school but never came across ‘hangover’ in the lessons?! 🙂
It’s fascinating how different words come about and just how many actual foreign words are now in use and in the English dictionary! Thank you.


Enjoyed the list and glad I had heard of all the words except the one at the end.

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