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IE gno-  to know

Say out ‘gno’ and then ‘know’. They sound similar, don’t they? ‘Know’ is a child of gno-. In Old English, all the ‘kn’ words, like ‘know’ and ‘kneel’, were pronounced with the ‘k’.


The Sanskrit words gyaan and jaan (the one in jaan-pehchaan and jaankaari, not the ‘tu meri jaan hai’ one) are also from the same root.


The idea of ‘knowing’ is intimately related with ‘giving birth’ as is evident from the nearness between the roots gen- and gno-. In Sanskrit too, jaan-na, to know, is close to jan-na, to give birth. The English word ‘know’ also has an archaic meaning of ‘to have a sexual intercourse with.’

A noble man is ‘knowable’, an ignoble man is not. Someone who was well-known was called notorious but now, the word is used only in the sense of being well-known for a bad thing.


An ignorant man does not know anything. An agnostic too does not know, but the answer to one specific question—whether God exists or not. To ‘diagnose’ a disease means to know what it is from its symptoms. Once a doctor diagnoses a disease, he then prognosticates its future course.


The art of knowing the true character of a man, by studying his physical, especially his facial features, is called physiognomySlowly, this tell-tale face itself started being called the physiognomy of a person.

When you say ‘I can do it’, what you mean is ‘I know how to do it.’ The word ‘can’ means ‘having the know-how, knowledge.’ The brothers and sisters of ‘can’ are canny, uncanny and ken.


There are many more words in this treasure trove of knowledge. Let’s chant together the magic mantra that will open the doors of the khazaana to us! Khulja simsim had become far too common, so the password that the guardians of this treasure decided was “Gnognoshuruo!”


Gno-1: Gnomeacquaintquaint

Gno-2: cognitioncognizance, recognition

Gno-3: cognoscentiincognitoconnoisseur

Gno-4: reconnaissancereconnoiter


A related root is Latin nota, which means, ‘a mark or a note by which a thing may be known.’ It is found in noteworthy, annotateconnotation and denotation.

Greek sophia  wisdom

A ‘philosopher’ pursues knowledge simply because he loves doing that (Gk philo-, loving). In contrast, the sophists, etymologically the ‘wise-ist’, were men who ‘did’ wisdom; that is, they made a business out of it.


Politics was the dream career for most of the young Greeks of fifth century B.C. The sophists exploited the opportunity by holding paid lectures all over the country, where they taught eager young men how to impress the masses and sway their beliefs. Anybody who attended the lectures, they claimed, could make the better reason appear the worse and vice versa, or give satisfactory replies on a subject he knew nothing about. This could be done by using difficult words, convoluted sentences, exotic metaphors, paradoxes, etc. The dazzled listeners, in order not to let anyone think they were stupid, would quietly nod at the speaker’s sophisticated arguments without understanding an iota of them. Launching a personal attack on the opponent was another sophistry they taught to divert attention from the main issue.


Sophism is about appearing wise before others. Then there are the sophomores, who genuinely think that the one year in college has made them quite wise. The truth is, though somewhat lesser, they are still morons. This amalgamation of sophos, wise, and moros, foolish, yielded ‘Sophomore.’

Latin scire to know

‘Science’ is knowledge. This simplest, and perhaps the most elegant, definition of science is given by the root of the word itself.

A man who is ‘conscious’ is well-aware; he knows what is happening around him. The self-knowledge of the rightness and wrongness of one’s actions is called ‘conscience’.


Intimately: (adv) very closely.

Ignoble: (adj) of low character. Opposite of ‘noble.’

Origin: L in-, not + gno-, to know => ‘not worthy of being known.’

  • The Chief Minister played an ignoble role in the communal riots. Instead of controlling the violence, he gave statements which incited the passions of the majority community and encouraged them to express their anger through large-scale rioting, arson and pillage. The tandava continued unabated for three days because the Chief Minister had ordered the police to not arrest any person from the majority community and to register no FIRs from the minority community.
  • Dalits have traditionally been called with many ignoble names.

Pillage: (n) the act of robbing violently; plunder

Notorious: (adj) famous for a bad reason.

Origin: L notus, known

  • The Indian Police is notorious for its inefficiency.
  • The notorious criminal was finally arrested, after evading the police for twenty years.

Ignoramus: (n) a man who knows little or nothing.

Origin: L in-, not + gno-, to know => ‘one who does not know’

  • Once, Nehru and a union minister of his cabinet were talking to a distinguished foreign guest. Nehru told the lady about the beauty of the Elephanta Caves and urged her to visit it before leaving India. The minister, who had never been to the Caves but wanted to miss no chance to please Nehru, immediately blurted out, “Yes madam, you will see many elephants there.” Nehru was shocked and embarrassed to discover that his cabinet minister was such an ignoramus who thought the Elephanta Caves were overrun by elephants.

Agnostic: (n) one who says that he does not know and that man cannot know whether God exists or not. Contrast this with a theist, who is confident that God exists and an atheist, who is equally confident that God does not exist.

Origin: Gk a-, not + gno-, to know => ‘one who does not know’

Prognosis: (n) a prediction about the progress of a disease and the chances of recovery. Such a prediction is called a prognostication.

Origin: Gk pro-, before + gno-, to know => ‘to know beforehand’

Physiognomy: (n) the face, especially when used to determine the character of a person.

Origin: Gk physio-, body + gno-, to know => ‘to know from bodily features’

  • When someone says that he doesn’t trust a person with blue eyes, he is using a person’s physiognomy to make judgments about his character.
  • The physiognomist claimed that he could analyse a person’s character by observing features like the condition of his hair, the structure and colour of his eyes, how he ate, how he spoke and the size of his chest.

Canny: (adj) very wise, knowing what to do, when to do and how much to do.

  • In the early 1980s, the Government of India sent a team of technocrats to Japan to hunt for a collaborator for its Maruti project.

Suzuki at that time was a very small player in the four-wheeler segment. However, the canny Chairman of the Suzuki Group, Osamu Suzuki, still managed to win the bid. That was because he made sure that he was present in all rounds of discussion with the Indian delegation whereas the big corporations like Toyota, Nissan and Honda had left the detailed technical presentations to their lower levels of management. This attention of Osamu Suzuki flattered the Indian team and also convinced them of the sincerity of his interest in their project.

Uncanny: (adj) that which cannot be explained with existing knowledge, supernatural, mysterious.

  • The old man was woken up by an uncanny sound coming from the lobby. It was like the tick tick of a large clock, varied after every six ticks or so by a sound like a woman’s stifled screams.

Ken: (n) knowledge, understanding; (v) to know.

  • Rupa didn’t know what to say when her five-year-old son asked her what ‘sexy’ meant. He had heard the word from his playmates. She said: “Beta, you won’t understand it yet. It is beyond your ken. But don’t use the word. Good children do not say it.”
  • The husband asked his wife what the name of the guy who had come up to them in the party the previous evening, was. “How absurd!” she replied. “How should I ken what the name was?”

Gnome: (n) creatures in European folk tales, described as old-aged dwarfs who guarded the treasures buried inside the earth.

Origin: Gk gno-, to know => ‘those with knowledge’

Acquaint: (v) to make known. A person whom you know is said to be your acquaintance.

Origin: L ad-, to + com-, with + gno-, to know = accognitare => ‘to make known to’

Quaint: (adj) charming because of its strangeness, especially if it is old-fashioned.

Origin: L com- + gno- => ‘to make known’ => ‘worth knowing’ => ‘interesting’

Cognition: (n) mental ability to know things; the process of knowing; knowledge.

Origin: L com- + gno- => ‘to know’

  • The abilities to sense, observe, recognize, think, judge and imagine are all essential for cognition.

Cognizance: (n) knowledge, notice.

Origin: L com- + gno- => ‘to know’

  • The Principal took cognizance of the student’s excellent academic record and decided to give him one more chance.
  • Taking cognizance of a newspaper report about how an MLA had allocated ‘Below Poverty Line’ cards to his middle-class supporters so that they could procure ration at nominal rates, the Chief Minister ordered an enquiry into the matter.
  • To ‘recognize’ someone is to notice him again.

Cognoscenti: (n) a person with specialized knowledge in a field, usually the field of arts.

Origin: L com- + gno- => ‘the one who knows’

  • The music which is liked by the man on the street is usually rejected by the cognoscenti and vice versa. Only very few musicians are able to win the approval of both the connoisseurs and the general public.

Incognito: (adv) under a false identity; (n) a person who does things incognito.

Origin: L in-, not + (com- + gno- = ‘to know’) => ‘not known’ => ‘unknown’

  • The king used to walk the streets of his city incognito in the night.

Connoisseur: (n) a person with specialized knowledge in a field, usually the field of arts; cognoscenti.

Origin: L com- + gno- => ‘the one who knows’

  • Connoisseurs and common man alike have been enthralled by the grandeur of Mughal-e-Azam.

Reconnaissance: (n) the act of surveying an area to know about its geography, etc.

Origin: From re- + cognizance

  • The police caught a Pakistani terrorist while he was on a reconnaissance mission to Mumbai. From him, the police came to know that the terrorists were planning a major strike on the, city.

Reconnoiter: (v) to survey an area to know about its geography, etc.

Annotate: (v) to add explanatory or critical notes to.

Origin: L ad-, to + nota, note => ‘to add notes to’

  • When you write your doubts or remarks on the margins of a document, or highlight some lines, you are annotating the text. Your remarks are called ‘annotations.’

Connotation: (n) the meaning or the idea that a word suggests.

Origin: L co-, together + nota, mark => ‘to mark together’ => ‘that which is marked together with the primary meaning of the word’

  • The word ‘notorious’ only meant ‘famous’ to begin with. However, with time, it acquired a negative connotation. This means, that while it still meant ‘famous’, it started suggesting that the person in question was famous for a negative reason.
  • The word ‘mother’ connotes ‘female, origin, warmth and unconditional love.’

Denotation: (n) the basic meaning of a word, without its connotations.

Origin: L de-, down + nota => ‘to note down.’

  • The words ‘inexpensive’ and ‘cheap’ have the same denotation but different connotations. They both mean ‘not expensive’ but the word ‘cheap’ has negative connotation.

It’s okay to say that someone was wearing an inexpensive dress but if you say that she was wearing a cheap dress, one gets the image of

the lady as dressed distastefully.

  • The symbol P denotes Pressure. That is, P means Pressure.

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