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”).
- (intransitive) To ring a bell slowly, especially for a funeral; to toll.
- (transitive) To signal or proclaim something (especially a death) by ringing a bell.
- October 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Woodnotes, Number II”, in The Dial, volume 2, number 2, page 212:
- 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.
- October 1931, Robert E. Howard, “The Gods of Bal-Sagoth”, in Weird Tales, volume 18, number 3:
- 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.
- (transitive) To summon by, or as if by, ringing a bell.
knell (plural knells)
- The sound of a bell knelling; a toll (particularly one signalling a death).
- c. 1608–1609, William Shakespeare, “The Tragedy of Coriolanus”, in Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies […] (First Folio), London: […] Isaac Iaggard, and Ed[ward] Blount, published 1623, OCLC 606515358, [Act V, scene iv]:
- […] he is able to pierce a corselet with his eye; talks like a knell, and his hum is a battery.
- (figuratively) A sign of the end or demise of something or someone.
- 1879, John Richard Green, “Chapter 2”, in History of the English People, volume 8, Modern England, 1760-1815, London: Macmillan, published 1896, page 41-42:
- 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.
- 1 October 2000, Simon Caulkin, “Taking over by talking back”, in The Guardian:
- 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.