Knave - nave

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The two homophones knave and nave shouldn't be confused. They sometimes are, even if only by a typographical error.

  • A knave (from the common Old Germanic reconstructed as knabon-) was
    • originally in Old English 'a male child', 'a boy'.
    • After the Norman Conquest, a knave was commonly a male servant, of the lower orders,
    • By the fifteenth century, the word had deteriorated to mean 'a rogue', 'a villain'; a criminal of the less serious sort.
      • A knave is the older name for the lowest of the face (or court) cards in the conventional common pack of playing cards. Jack has become the usual name for this, probably because of confusion between the abbreviation Kn (for this) and K (for King). A form of snobbery between the two names can be seen in Chapter VIII of Dickens's Great Expectations, where the cruel Estella says "with disdain": ""He calls the knaves Jacks, this boy!" about Pip.
  • A nave is principally the main part of a Christian church, with the most space for the congregation. It is found at the west end of the most conventional design. Nave is derived from the Latin navis 'a ship' - though it may not be simply derived from a seafaring practice, of sheltering for worship under the up-turned hull of a beached longboat, which appears to have been done in Denmark.
    • More archaically, a nave was the central block of a spoked wooden wheel, or the hub. This meaning is derived from Germanic nāve, naba or Nabe (in current German), a 'navel', 'belly-button'.
      • The same word can be found in Shakespeare's Macbeth, where it is clearly a clipping of 'navel', in the Sergeant's account of hand-to-hand fighting:
Brave Macbeth .... ne'er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him,
Till he unseam'd him from the nave to th' chaps, [~ the jowls, cheeks]
And fix'd his head upon our battlements.
Macbeth (1623) I ii 22-24