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See also: Knell



From Middle English knellen, knillen, knyllen, knullen, from Old English cnyllan (to strike; knock; clap), from Proto-Germanic *knuzlijaną (to beat; push; mash), from Proto-Indo-European *gen- (to squeeze, pinch, kink, ball up).



knell (third-person singular simple present knells, present participle knelling, simple past and past participle knelled)

  1. (intransitive) To ring a bell slowly, especially for a funeral; to toll.
    • 1647, John Fletcher and Philip Massinger, The Spanish Curate, Act V, Scene 2, in The Dramatick Works of Beaumont and Fletcher, London: T. Evans et al., 1778, Volume 2, p. 288,[1]
      I’ll make thee sick at heart, before I leave thee,
      And groan, and die indeed, and be worth nothing,
      Not worth a blessing nor a bell to knell for thee []
    • 1816, Walter Scott, The Black Dwarf, Chapter 7,[2]
      [] God!—the words of the warlock are knelling in my ears!”
    • 1824, Percy Bysshe Shelley, “Autumn: A Dirge” in Posthumous Poems, London: John & Henry L. Hunt, p. 166,[3]
      The chill rain is falling, the nipt worm is crawling,
      The rivers are swelling, the thunder is knelling
      For the year;
    • 1846, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, The New Timon. A Poetical Romance, London: Henry Colburn, 4th edition, 1846, Part II, p. 86,[4]
      Yet all that poets sing, and grief hath known,
      Of hopes laid waste, knells in that word—ALONE!
  2. (transitive) To signal or proclaim something (especially a death) by ringing a bell.
    • 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Woodnotes, Number II” in The Dial, Volume 2, Number 2, October 1841, p. 212,[5]
      Let thy friends be as the dead in doom,
      And build to them a final tomb;
      Let the starred shade that nightly falls
      Still celebrate their funerals,
      And the bell of beetle and of bee
      Knell their melodious memory.
    • 1909, Alfred Allinson (translator), The Well of Saint Clare by Anatole France (1895), London: John Lane, Prologue,[6]
      The church bells knelled the peaceful ending of the day, while the purple shades of night descended sadly and majestically on the low chain of neighbouring hills.
    • 1931, Robert E. Howard, The Gods of Bal-Sagoth in Weird Tales, Volume 18, Issue 3, October 1931, Chapter 3,[7]
      His right hand, clenched into an iron mallet, battered desperately at the fearful face bent toward his; the beast-like teeth shattered under his blows and blood splattered, but still the red eyes gloated and the taloned fingers sank deeper and deeper until a ringing in Turlogh’s ears knelled his soul’s departure.
  3. (transitive) To summon by, or as if by, ringing a bell.



knell (plural knells)

  1. The sound of a bell knelling; a toll (particularly one signalling a death).
  2. (figuratively) A sign of the end or demise of something or someone.
    • 1879, John Richard Green, History of the English People, Volume 8, Modern England, 1760-1815, London: Macmillan, 1896, Chapter 2, pp. 41-42,[10]
      But at the close of the war there was less thought of what [Britain] had retained than of what she had lost. She was parted from her American Colonies; and at the moment such a parting seemed to be the knell of her greatness.
    • 2000, Simon Caulkin, “Taking over by talking back,” The Guardian, 1 October, 2000,[11]
      The internet sounds the knell for conventional brands, predicts Professor Alec Reed, who has set up an Academy of Enterprise to chart the emerging individual economy. By making price and other comparisons ever easier, the internet strips them of mystique and turns them into commodities.

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