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knack

Printable Version Pronunciation: næk Hear it!

Part of Speech: Noun

Meaning: A special, inexplicable skill or talent for carrying out a specific action.

Notes: Today's Good Word has an eccentric family. Not all of its members changed along the lines of today's word (see Word History). The verb knack means "to crack, to make the noise of cracking", reflecting the original meaning of knack, the noun. Knacker "something that makes a sharp cracking sound", bears the same meaning. Knick-knack once meant "clatter", the alternation of knicking and knacking sounds. It followed the noun knack to its second historical meaning, "a trick" before ending up with its current sense, "a trinket, gimcrack, kickshaw".

In Play: A sense of mystery and magic swirls around today's word: "I don't know how she does it, but Mary Weather has a knack for throwing successful parties." It implies a sure skill: "Maud Lynn Dresser has a knack for wearing the wrong outfit everywhere she goes."

Word History: Today's Good Word started out around 1380 meaning a cracking sound. This is confirmed by its cousins in other Germanic languages, knacken "to crack" and Norwegian knake "crack". (We also find Gaelic cnac with the same meaning.) For some unknown reason, by the time it reached the middle of the 16th century that meaning had given way to "deception, trick". Probably along the lines of crack shifting its meaning to "snide remark". The sense of "special talent" was first recorded in the 1580s, showing that "trick" took little time to be interpreted as a "special talent". (Let's thank Susan Kappel, who has the knack for spotting extremely Good Words, as her suggestion of today's amply demonstrates.)

Dr. Goodword, alphaDictionary.com

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