knack

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knack

Post by nicktecky » Wed Jan 17, 2007 4:18 pm

As in: "he's got the knack" meaning he has a particular skill which needs a specific trick or technique.

My guess is that it refers to the knackerman who destroyed worn out horses or cattle and processed the products into various commodities. I'm guessing the trick would be in the handling of the axe used to dispatch the creature before a gun was used. Making sure of a clean kill would be a skill needed for the task, and so the word could derive from the knackerman having the knack so to do.

Any authoritative thoughts?
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Post by DJHampson » Wed Jan 17, 2007 4:55 pm

Nothing authorative here. I am fond of the term. As a child I was always being told, "Oh, you'll soon get the knack of it." and similar. Knack also means, I believe, to cut cleanly (or something similar), so the origin may be that to do something well you must know just how to "cut" through it cleanly.
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Post by Shelley » Wed Jan 17, 2007 6:37 pm

For a pretty good discussion of "knacker" and variations, look at: knacker's yard
It is found by doing a WW search, using the word "knack". The discussion touches on "knick/nick-knacks", but doesn't really deal with "knack" as skill or ability at an activity.
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Post by Ken Greenwald » Thu Jan 18, 2007 8:02 pm

Nick, And here I thought you were going to ask about NICKKNACK. (&lt)

There is a problem with your idea for the origin of KNACK, meaning 1) A clever, expedient way of doing something; scheme; skill, a trick, technique 2) A specific talent for something, especially one difficult to explain or teach.

The original meaning of this KNACK (1369, Chaucer) was a trick; a device, artifice; formerly often, a deceitful or crafty device, a mean or underhand trick; latter especially an adroit or ingenious method of doing something, a clever expedient, a ‘dodge.’ (1581) The ‘trick’ of dexterous performance; an acquired faculty of doing something cleverly, adroitly, and successfully – now the leading sense. It is believed that this word derives from the obsolete knack, meaning ‘sharp blow or sound,’ of imitative origin, which might (very iffy) have been made by a trickster. KNACKER, meaning trickster or deceiver, first appeared in print circa 1380.
<1581 “They that haue any naturall towardnesse to write well, haue a KNACKE of drawing to.”—‘Positions’ (1887) by Mulcaster, page 34>

<circa 1661 “Our Holland had the true KNACK of translating.”—‘The History of the Worthies of England’ (1840) by Fuller, III. page 287>

<1713 “He who hath no KNACK at writing sonnets.”—‘The Guardian’ by Steele, No. 10, §6>

<1824 “He always had a KNACK of making himself understood among the women.”—‘Tales of a Traveller’ by Washington Irving, I. page 54>
Now, the problem with your guess is that the above ‘trick/talent’ meanings of KNACK were in use centuries before the term KNACKER was recorded, for one who collects and disposes of dead horses (see below), so it seems extremely unlikely that the former could have derived from the later.

'A' (but not 'the') horse-related KNACKER first appeared in print in 1573 and was dialect for a harness maker, where the name might have derived from the ‘knacks’ or small articles/trinkets attached to harnesses. However, it wasn’t until 1812 that the word appeared in relation to one who is in the dead horse dodge.
<1573 “Plowwrite, cartwrite, KNACKER and smith.”—‘A Hundreth Good Pointes of Husbandrie’ (1878) by Tusser, page 137>

<1691 “A KNACKER, One that makes Collars and other Furniture for Cart-horses. Modern. Northampton Dialect, You must take this collar to the KNACKER’S to be altered, it wrings the horse's shoulders so much.”—‘S. & E. Country Words’ by Ray, page 104>

<1812 “He was a KNACKER [note, A purchaser of worn-up horses].”—“Sporting Magazine,’ XXXIX. page 209>

<1875 “Four or five hundred horses are carried to the KNACKER’S yard each week in London.”—‘Social Pressure’ by Helps, ii. page 9>
AN ASIDE: The slang transitive verb KNACKER meaning to kill (late 19th century); to castrate (Australia, mid-19th century); ususually in weakened sense, to exhaust, to wear out, tire (late 19th century) was a relative latecomer to the ‘knacker’ game. And, speaking of castration, it was noted in the posting knacker’s yard, referred to by Shelley above, that KNACKERS was slang for testicles (1866). The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories speculated that this usage derives from the dialect knacker, for ‘castanet,’ from the word ‘knack’ which, as mentioned above, is imitative of a sharp abrupt noise. Well, I’ve got the visuals on this one, but the audio isn’t coming through! (&lt)

(Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories, Oxford Dictionary of Slang, Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology, Cassell’s Dictionary of Slang)
_______________________

Ken G – January 18, 2007
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Post by trolley » Fri Jan 19, 2007 12:15 am

I had a British friend who always complained of being "absolutely bloody knackered". Good to know that it means tired or worn out. Where I come from, being knackered wouldn't be something you'd want to keep telling everyone about.
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Post by hsargent » Fri Jan 19, 2007 2:34 pm

"Nick knack, padiwhack, give your dog a bone. This old man keeps rolling on."
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Post by Wizard of Oz » Sat Jan 20, 2007 10:22 am

.. the word knackers can also be used Downunder as a greeting to a mate as in, Gidday knackers, owya goin' ? .. it is very common slang for testicles .. and trolley you will also find people Downunder complaining of being knackered ..

WoZ of Aus 20/01/07
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Post by nicktecky » Sat Jan 20, 2007 11:19 am

So Ken, if I can just adjust a few hundred years of etymological history, my guess MUST be right! Perhaps I'll get Dan Brown on the case.
May I observe that if the England batsmen had the knack of batting, they wouldn't have nicked McGrath to slips, or Warne onto their own stumps! Perhaps they'll be in better nick next time!
By the way, if you Google on 'knackerman' you'll find a very useful source for all things relating to the horse despatching game.
Ken, nicknack is easy. It's the name of Scaramanga's diminutive sidekick in 'The Man with the Golden Gun'!
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