Sound value and distributionIn English, k normally represents a voiceless velar stop, whose voiced equivalent is g. It is typically used: (1) Before e, i: kennel, keep, kit, kind, sketch, skirt, skin. It occurs more rarely before other vowel letters (chiefly after s) in long-established English words: skate, skull, sky (contrast scale, Scot, scud). (2) After a long vowel (take, break, meek, like, soak, broke, duke) as well as after oo (book, cook). Further syllables may follow (naked, token). (3) In conjunction with preceding c after a short vowel, ck having the function of a doubled c or k: sack, wreck, lick, mock, duck; bracken, reckon, wicked, rocket, bucket. (4) After other consonants which follow a short vowel (whose value may be modified and lengthened before l, r, w): walk, whelk, folk, milk, hulk, frank, pink, lark, jerk, ask, desk, hawk; sparkle, whisker.
Exotic and innovative usages(1) Recently coined or borrowed words use k without positional restrictions: names for exotic creatures, such as kangaroo, koala, have k, not c, before a, o, and yak, trek lack the usual c between short vowel and k. (2) K may be doubled between vowels in such words as yakkity-yak and trekking. (3) For visual effect, c and q are sometimes changed to k: as trade names (Kleenex, based on clean) and businesses (Kwik-Fit, based on quick). The change may take place for facetious, humorous, or sinister purposes: Krazy Kats, Ku Klux Klan. (4) Foreign names commonly occur with k in untypical positions: Kaiser, Kremlin, Kuwait.
Digraphs(1) Ck is not a digraph in the sense of a combination creating a new pronunciation, but is common after short vowels in VERNACULAR words (black, not *blac or *blak), although the loanwords bloc, chic, and dak, flak occur. (2) Kh may constitute a digraph by representing a voiceless velar fricative /x/, rather as in ScoE loch, transliterating RUSSIAN x (Kharkov, Khrushchev) and similar sounds in other languages. However, in such words, the h is commonly ignored, and kh is pronounced as /k/: khaki, khan, khedive, astrakhan.
Silent K(1) In OLD ENGLISH and MIDDLE ENGLISH, initial c or k (like its voiced equivalent g) could be pronounced immediately before n. In this position, k has since fallen silent, but has been retained in writing in some twenty forms that include knave, knee, knife, knot, knuckle. This orthographic feature strikingly distinguishes several pairs of HOMOPHONES: knave/nave, knight/night, know/no. (2) In isolated cases, ck or k has been assimilated or elided before another consonant, as in blackguard (‘blaggard’) and Cockburn (‘Coburn’).
Variations(1) K is inserted before vowels in inflected forms and derivatives of verbs ending in c: bivouacked, picknicker, panicking (but note arced not *arcked, from to arc). (2) It occurs before e and i in place of a c in a related word or form: cat/kitten, cow/kine, joke/jocular, urb/kerb, curfew/kerchief. (3) It has been replaced in ake, which is now ache. (4) It has disappeared from made, which was formerly maked. (5) It no longer occurs in forms ending in -ic: logic, music. which were formerly logick, musick. (6) Taken has the poetic spelling ta'en, reflecting a common pronunciation in DIALECT in England and Scotland. (7) The letter x has replaced cks in coxcomb and ck in coxswain, while bucksome was one of many earlier forms of buxom. In India, it sometimes replaces the Romanized SANSKRIT ksh, the names Lakshman, Lakshmi becoming Laxman, Laxmi. (8) For humorous, commercial purposes, such spellings as socks can become sox. (9) Alternations with c and qu in various combinations arise in loans from FRENCH: block/bloc, manikin/mannequin, racket/racquet. (10) BrE barque, cheque, chequer, disc, kerb, mollusc, sceptic are usually written bark, check, checker, disk, curb, mollusk, skeptic in AmE. However, some similar pairs of words are of distinct meaning and origin: arc/ark, scull/skull. See C, X.
K1 / kā/ (also k) • n. (pl. Ks or K's ) the eleventh letter of the alphabet. ∎ denoting the next after J in a set of items, categories, etc. K2 • abbr. ∎ kelvin(s). ∎ Comput. kilobyte(s). ∎ kilometer(s). ∎ kindergarten. ∎ king (used esp. in describing play in card games and recording moves in chess): declarer overruffed with ♦K and led another spade 18.Ke2. ∎ knit (as an instruction in knitting patterns): K 42 rows. ∎ Köchel (catalog of Mozart's works): the Sinfonia Concertante, K364. ∎ inf. thousand (used chiefly in expressing salaries or other sums of money). ∎ Baseball strikeout. • symb. the chemical element potassium.
K2 the highest mountain in the Karakoram range, on the border between Pakistan and China. It is the second-highest peak in the world, and was discovered in 1856 and named K2 because it was the second peak to be surveyed in the Karakoram range. It was also formerly known as Mount Godwin-Austen after Col. H. H. Godwin-Austen, who first surveyed it.
k • abbr. ∎ karat. ∎ [in comb.] (in units of measurement) kilo-: a distance of 700 kpc. ∎ kopeck(s). • symb. a constant in a formula or equation.
• Maths., symbol for a constant
• Maths., symbol for curvature
• symbol for kilo- (prefix indicating 1000, as in km, kilometre; or (in computing) 1024, as in kbyte, kilobyte)
• (ital.) Mechanics, symbol for radius of gyration
• (ital.) Chem., symbol for rate coefficient (or constant)
• (ital.) Physics, symbol for thermal conductivity
• (bold ital.) Maths., symbol for a unit coordinate vector