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xxxix. Signs and Wonders - Knife

Prehistoric flint knife.


"hand-held cutting instrument consisting of a short blade and handle," late Old English cnif, probably from Old Norse knifr "knife, dirk," from Proto-Germanic *knibaz (source also of Middle Low German knif, Middle Dutch cnijf, German kneif), a word of uncertain origin. To further confuse the etymology, there also are forms in -p-, such as Dutch knijp, German kneip. French canif "penknife" (mid-15c.) is probably of Germanic origin, perhaps from Frankish.

His Master's Voice

iii. Lino Knife

The blade

a small silver crescent moon

of tempered steel

honed to a razor:

he might test along

the dark hairs on his hand.

And then the cut and slice,

a secret pact

between his eye and fingers.

The sharp smell of new

yellow linoleum. The dark red

inlay of swirls and shapes

and then the quick fish

that swam beneath the knife.

Jeff Guess


How Pen Knives Got Their Name

The term pen knife is typically used in Great Britain to describe a knife that is a small folding knife. But the name dates back centuries and was used to describe the type of knife used to sharpen a quill so it would write clearer (once dipped in ink, of course). Back in those days, the knife was often not a folder but had a short blade.


Go bid thy mistress, when my drink is ready, She strike upon the bell. Get thee to bed. [Exit Servant] Is this a dagger which I see before me, The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee. I have thee not, and yet I see thee still. Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible To feeling as to sight? or art thou but A dagger of the mind, a false creation, Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain? I see thee yet, in form as palpable As this which now I draw. Thou marshall'st me the way that I was going; And such an instrument I was to use. Mine eyes are made the fools o' the other senses, Or else worth all the rest; I see thee still, And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood, Which was not so before. There's no such thing: It is the bloody business which informs Thus to mine eyes. Now o'er the one halfworld Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse The curtain'd sleep; witchcraft celebrates Pale Hecate's offerings, and wither'd murder, Alarum'd by his sentinel, the wolf, Whose howl's his watch, thus with his stealthy pace. With Tarquin's ravishing strides, towards his design Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth, Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear Thy very stones prate of my whereabout, And take the present horror from the time, Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives: Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives. [A bell rings] I go, and it is done; the bell invites me. Hear it not, Duncan; for it is a knell That summons thee to heaven or to hell.

Macbeth Act 2:1


"I was raised, you see, in a tradition to which it was considered improper for a man to be without a knife on his person … My grandfather had a number of dicta, all of them which were aimed at delineating how a gentleman should comport himself. One of them was: No gentleman should ever be without a pocketknife. You would have to have known him to appreciate the full paradoxically of the statement. He had the most elegant manners of any man I have ever met, but he was ready for anything — fish or cut bait, figuratively or literally — at a moment's notice. I give you one more of his dicta to help you take full measure of the man: A gentleman should be able to prepare a light supper without removing his jacket. Obviously, you would have loved him." Robert Farrar Capon

©Jeff Guess 2017

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