I just ran across the marvelous phrase “kenspeckle bop tunes,” and turned to the Concise Oxford, where I found:

kenspeckle /’kɛnˌspɛk(ə)l/ adj. Scottish conspicuous; easily recognizable
ORIGIN C16: of Scand. origin, prob. based on ON kenna ‘know, perceive’ and spak-, spek- ‘wise or wisdom’

Now, Old Norse spakr ‘wise’ is apparently from the PIE root *spek- ‘observe,’ which is the source of Latin specere ‘to look at’ and speciēs ‘a seeing, sight, form,’ Greek skeptesthai ‘to examine, consider’ and skopos ‘one who watches; object of attention, goal,’ and a great many other words — scroll down to spek- at the American Heritage Dictionary Indo-European Roots Appendix for all the traces it has left in English. And if you scroll to gnō- ‘to know’ you’ll see the even larger number of traces left by that highly productive root, including ken. A nice, unexpected little Indo-European package!


  1. David Marjanović says

    All straight from Pokorny. :-/

    From *spek- to skep-? Random metathesis is allowed now? When the Caucasologists do it, people howl…

  2. I know, I know. But it’s such a beautiful vision…

  3. It’s not like methatesis never happens: consider Skt. jihva ‘tongue’ > Pali jivha, or Skt. chakra > Hindi charka ‘spinning wheel’, or L parabola (< Gk) > Sp palabra, OE þrid > ModE third, or for that matter ModE iron > /aɪə(r)n/.

  4. David Marjanović says

    I know it does; I thought IEists were very wary of postulating it in irregular cases that are less well documented than your examples. (þrid, brid > third, bird is regular, isn’t it?)

  5. There are only three native words ending with -ird, and as it happens the thrid one is a counterexample: gird < OE gyrdan < PGmc gurdjan, a causative < PIE *ghr-dh-, suffixed zero grade of *gher- ‘grasp’; insert laryngeals. (There is also dirt < drit, but that happened in ME times and can’t be related.) It’s not much of a rule that explains two out of exactly three examples.

  6. That’s weird.

  7. David Marjanović says

    as it happens the thrid [ 🙂 ] one is a counterexample:

    …No; a counterexample would be a -rid- word that had stayed -rid instead of becoming -ird-.

    Of course, rid itself comes to mind.

    insert laryngeals

    Probably none. 🙂 I’ve begun to read the Google preview of “The Reflexes of the Proto-Indo-European Laryngeals in Celtic“, though, so maybe I’ll soon litter the landscape in subscript numbers.

  8. Indeed, rid is the only native -rid word remaining. So again, the supposed regularity explains two out of the three examples.

  9. @Y I don’t think weird is a counterexample either.

  10. I was just being a nird.

  11. The Penguin Guide to Jazz on a 1989 bebop album by pianist Paul Bley, quoted in Wikipedia.

    “My Little Suede Shoes” (Parker)
    “Ornithology” (Parker)
    “A Night in Tunisia” (Dizzy Gillespie)

    Kenspeckle enough.

  12. Trond Engen says

    Wouldn’t the presumed rule extend to words like ‘curl’, ‘dirt’ and ‘burst’, maybe even ‘spurt’? ‘Rid’ is different since the ‘r’ isn’t part of a cluster.

  13. Trond Engen says

    ‘Kenspeckle’ sounds to me like a folk etymology of ‘conspicuous’ — quite possibly jocular.

  14. Trond, the Dictionary of the Scots Language says “prob. of Scand. orig. Cf. Norw. dial. kjennespak, Swed. känspak, quick at recognising.” So there you are.

  15. Trond Engen says

    I wasn’t spak enough to kjenne a word I’ve never heard. Of course, these days spak means “feeble”.

  16. Chris McG says

    Where I grew up in Devon we have “gert” for “great”, “shret” for “shirt”, “wert” for “writ”, “thred” for “third”…almost to the point where if you have a one syllable word with an ‘r’ as part of a consonant cluster at either end, you can happily move the ‘r’ to be part of a cluster at the other end without too much trouble (sometimes leading to non-Devonians falling for false compliments like “he’s the biggest part of this team”…also amusement at the phrase “frat boys”).

  17. David Marjanović says

    Oh. That’s some nice regularity. 🙂

  18. Lars Mathiesen says

    känspak — tsk, tsk, DSL, it’s kännspak. It’s in Hellström s.v. känna, and he agrees on the spak part being from *spek-. For spak, Wikt is doing the ‘refer to Old Swedish spaker and then don’t list it’ trick — but it’s not a redlink because the page exists (it has a single Norwegian Bokmål inflected form on it). I call that cheating.

    For what it’s worth, I was also guessing at a derivation from conspicuous. Better match than a lot of things you see, and the L is not in the Norse either, so it’s a good thing the dictionary isn’t built on our guesswork.

    (Both Danish (spag) and Swedish has a sense development from ‘clever’ to ‘meek’).

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