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.


Kentucky, the gorgeous bluegrass State I now call home, is a North American place name that clearly comes from an indigenous word but which word of the two leading possibilities is uncertain.

Option one is Eskippakithiki, the name of a Shawnee (Algonquian) village in what is now Clark County. The earliest known printed use of Kentucky is from the Pennsylvania Gazette, dated May 10, 1753 and hints at a Shawnee origin:

By Letters from Virginia, dated the 10th of April, we have the following Advice, viz. “That an armed Company of Indians, consisting of Ottowawas, and Connywagas, headed by one of the Six Nations, and a white Man, met with some Pennsylvania Traders, at a place called Kentucky, about 150 Miles from the Shawnese Town, on this side of the Allegheny River, and took eight Prisoners, five belonging to Mr. Groghan, the other three to Mr. Lowry, and with them Goods to the Value of upwards of Three Hundred Pounds.

The second origin option is a Wyandot (Iroquoian) word meaning “plain, meadowland” that is similar to the Seneca (another Iroquoian language) g?dá’geh — pronounced /k?ta?keh/ — meaning “at the field.”

The newspaper clipping above is a bit unclear, although the implication is of the Kentucky reference being a specific village, or something along those lines. In 1755, the next known printed reference to Kentucky appears as the name of a river on a map of the middle British colonies by Lewis Evans and published by Benjamin Franklin. The description is as follows:

KENTUCKE … has high Clay Banks, abounds in Cane and Buffaloes, and has also some very large Salt Springs. It has no Limestone yet discovered, but some other fit for building. Its Navigation is interrupted with some Shoals, but passable with Canoes to the Gap, where the War Path goes through the Ouasioto Mountain. This Gap § I point out in the Map, as a very important Pass; and it is truly so, by Reason of its being the only Way passable with Horses from Ohio Southward for 3 or 400 Miles Extent. And if the Government has a Mind to preserve the Country back of Carolina, it should be looked to in Time.


The mention of “no limestone yet to be discovered” is humorous since it is the unique limestone of Kentucky which creates bourbon, an alcoholic beverage literally not made anywhere else in the world! That future reality aside, the implication of Kentucky as a village or settlement is substantiated by a notice placed in the Virginia Gazette on August 23, 1776:

KENTUCK, August 21, 1776.
WHEREAS, in consequence of an agreement made between myself and mr. John Floyd of this settlement, about a piece of land, I gave the said Floyd my bond for 20 l. I therefore give this publick notice, that I will not pay but half the same, and that whoever may take an assignment of the said bond for more than 10 l. will certainly be disappointed of their expectations therein. JOHN MAXWELL

Kentucky was incorporated as a county of Virginia in December 1776, and on June 1, 1792 became the fifteenth state of the United States.


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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