• knell •
nel • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: 1. The toll of bells rung slowly, as for a funeral or to mark the death of someone. 2. Mournful sounds resembling or implying a knell.
Notes: The result of our past experience with bells is many words referring to the sounds of bells. A tocsin was an alarm, a rapid peal. Toll is a near synonym of knell. I perceive a toll as having a much lower pitch than a knell. A peal includes the possibility of many bells at different pitches and implies a joyous occasion.
In Play: We are probably most familiar with today's word in the idiomatic phrase death knell: "The automobile was the death knell of the horse and buggy (except in Amish areas)." However, other uses are out there for us to apply to our conversations: "His name was the knell of all hopes for progress."
Word History: This word in Old English was cnyll from stem of cnyllan "to knell", implying an earlier cnullan. It was probably a borrowing from a Celtic language like Welsh that has a word cnull "death-bell, knell". However, it may have been a Proto-Indo-European word related to Middle High German knüllen "to strike" and Dutch knallen "to pop, bang". These seems to be the only possibilities. (Today's Good Word comes from the good doctor himself, who would like to offer a peal of gratitude for his board of editors, Paul Ogden, Luciano Eduardo de Oliveira, and Mary Jane Stoneburg for their long support and good work. The errors you may occasionally run across in this series are wholly my responsibility.)