Classifying Human Knowledge, Part II

Last week we looked at the Dewey Decimal and the Cutter Expansive Classification systems for organizing books. The other major system in use by English language libraries is the Library of Congress Classification or LCC system. The LCC is used and maintained, obviously, by the Library of Congress in Washington, DC and is also used by most of the larger libraries in the United States, including most university and research libraries.

Read the rest of the article...

Ku Klux Klan

Ku-Klux is a variation on the Greek kuklos meaning circle. The Klan is obviously from clan, with the k used for alliterative purposes.

The name dates to 1867 and was chosen by the group’s founders. Their exact reasons for the choice are not known for certain, but a circle implies a secret circle or society, a symbol for continuity, a symbol for perfection, and lots of other mystical imagery. From the Pulaski, Tennessee Citizen of 29 March 1867:

The Kuklux Klan will assemble at their usual place of rendezvous...exactly at the hour of midnight, in costume and bearing the arms of the Klan.

A common folkloric origin is that the name of the group comes from the sound of a gun cocking. This is bunk.

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)


This word for a horsed warrior has an interesting history. It is Germanic in origin, but its cognates in Dutch and German, Knecht, mean farm hand, boy, slave, and servitude—a far cry from the English sense of nobility.

The earliest English sense of knight, or more accurately cniht, is also servant or boy. It is recorded in King Alfred’s Orosius, circa 893:

Philippus, þa he cniht wæs, wæs Thebanum to gisle geseald.
(Philip, when he was a knight, was bound as a hostage to Thebes.)

This sense fell out of use in the 13th century, probably to avoid confusion with the second, more modern sense.

The sense meaning nobility (corresponding to Dutch and German Ridder and Ritter, respectively) stems from the idea that the knight was a servant of the king. From the Old English Chronicle, written sometime before 1100:

Þænne wæron mid him ealle þa rice men...abbodas & eorlas, þegnas & cnihtas.
(Then he was aware of all the great men…abbots & earls, thanes and knights.)

Thus in English, the servant became ennobled, while he remained low in the other Germanic languages.

Cavalier which is the literal equivalent of the Dutch or German words, dates to the 15th century and was adopted from the Spanish—hence the Latin root. While the denotation is the same as knight, the connotation is different. Cavalier was never an official title and its association with the supporters of Charles I in the English Civil War gave rise to the idea that cavaliers were noble, but distracted and careless.

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)

Knickerbocker / knickers

This nickname for a New Yorker is perhaps best known today as the source of the name of the New York Knicks basketball team. But it was once in more general use.

It got its start in Washington Irving’s 1809 Knickerbocker’s History of New York, allegedly written by the fictitious Diedrich Knickerbocker. By 1848 edition of that work, Irving noted that the name was being used by New Yorkers as a nickname:

When I find New Yorkers of Dutch descent priding themselves upon being “genuine Knickerbockers.”

The name transferred to the style of men’s loose-fitting trousers, gathered at the knee because of illustrations of similar knee-breeches in Irving’s book. From the Times of London, 23 May 1859:

The that volunteers should not wear trowsers, but I would recommend as a substitute what are commonly known as nickerbockers [sic], i.e. long loose breeches generally worn without braces, and buckled or buttoned round the waist and knee.

This was also shortened to knickers, a term that is still in use in the United States. In Britain, however, knickers also transferred to mean women’s underpants, a term that dominates British usage today. From the 1882 publication Queen:

I recommend...flannel knickers in preference to flannel petticoat.

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)


Kitty-corner, or catty-corner, is a classic example of the phenomenon known as folk-etymology. When a word or phrase makes little apparent sense, it will often mutate into a form that seems more familiar.

The term was originally catercorner. Cater is an old dialectical term for diagonal. It derives from the French quatre or four. Cater dates to the16th century, appearing in Barnaby Googe’s 1577 translation of Heresbach’s Foure Bookes of Husbandry:

The trees are set checkerwise and so catred [partim in quincuncem directis], as looke which way ye will, they lye level.

By the early 19th century, the folk etymology had set in. From Joseph C. Neal’s 1838 Charcoal Sketches:

One of that class...who, when compelled to share their bed with another, lie in that engrossing posture called “catty-cornered.”

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd Edition)

kit and caboodle

Kit and caboodle is everything, the entire of collection of things under consideration. But it’s an odd-sounding phrase to the modern ear. Kit doesn’t seem to make much sense here and what the heck is a caboodle?

The word kit is from the Middle Dutch kitte, a wooden vessel made of hooped staves. This original sense of kit remained current in English at least through the 19th century. It appears in English as early as 1375 in Barbour’s The Bruce:

Thai strak his hed of, and syne it Thai haf gert salt in-till a kyt And send it in-till Ingland.

Read the rest of the article...

Kilroy was here

Kilroy was a mysterious World War II soldier who traveled all over the world scrawling the immortal phrase Kilroy was here wherever a flat surface presented itself. Often, the phrase was accompanied by a simple drawing of a big-nosed man peering over a wall. Clearly, the graffiti were scrawled by thousands of different soldiers, not a single one named Kilroy. But did Kilroy actually exist? And if so, did he start the fad?

Unfortunately, no one knows. There have been numerous people claiming to have been the original Kilroy, but none of the claims can be verified.

Read the rest of the article...

Words On The Web:\worldcat

The folks that bring the Dewey Decimal System, the Online Computer Library Center, or OCLC, have a great catalog search service. By visiting their web site at http:\\\worldcat, you can enter in search terms and search a multitude of library catalogs for that book. You then enter in your city or postal code and the Worldcat service will give the libraries that that book in order of the distance from you.

For example, I enter in Word Myths and Emeryville, CA and I’m told that there are 408 libraries in the Worldcat system that have my book. The closest is the University of California Berkeley, some three miles away, followed by the San Francisco Public Library, across the bay some nine miles away. The farthest is the Singapore Polytechnic Library, half a world away.

This is an invaluable resource when you’re looking for a particularly hard-to-find book.

Classifying Human Knowledge, Part I

I’ve spent the last week organizing my library, a task that, surprisingly, has turned out to be quite interesting. In an effort to find a classification scheme that works for me, I’ve been looking at an learning about the various systems in use in libraries around the world.

The most famous is perhaps the Dewey Decimal System. Invented by Melvil Dewey in 1876, it is the most widely used library classification in the United States, used primarily by public and primary school libraries. The DDS divides all human knowledge into ten major divisions, each of these have ten possible subdivisions, these each have ten more, and so on. Hence the decimal.

Read the rest of the article...

Words On The Web:

A persistent vexation of mine is not being able to find the book I want. I know it’s on the shelf somewhere, but I just can’t find it. I’ve often spent ten minutes or more tracking down a book. My personal library is large (over 500 books), but it is by no means huge. Another issue is that I occasionally find myself buying multiple copies of a book–I forget what books I already own. I’ve often thought that I can’t be the only one with this problem and that there must be an easy way of organizing my books that someone else has pioneered.

Well, this week I discovered It is a sublime website. Cataloguing a library of some size is never easy, but makes it nearly so. So what is LibraryThing?

Read the rest of the article...
Powered by ExpressionEngine
Copyright 1997-2018, by David Wilton