PETER ELSON: Just When You Thought the Final Whistle Had Blown on a Good Insult

Article excerpt


FOR those of us who enjoy wallowing in the sumptuous riches of the English language, it is always a great pleasure to welcome back into the lime-light a friend that has perhaps been unfairly overlooked as new words avalanche down upon us. The word is knave and its dramatic reappearance comes courtesy of what promises to be an entertaining spectacle, for observers at least.

This is the start of a libel case involving Harry Kewell, the Liverpool FC star winger and recent European Championship player, who is suing Gary Lineker, former England captain, Everton striker and Match of the Day anchor, at the High Court, in London. Andrew Monson, the barrister representing Kewell, said that a Sunday newspaper article written by Gary Lineker, who criticised the financial deal behind the Australian player's move from Leeds to Liverpool FC, made his client look like a 'fool and a knave'. The word knave remains mostly in use today as the name of the lowest court card in a pack. The card's picture traditionally is that of a medieval servant or foot soldier, first recorded as being called a 'jack' in 1568. It also survives (so I'm told) as a news agents' top shelf magazine for gentlemen. According to my trusty Collins English Dictionary (1979 edition), the word knave was 'archaic' even back then. Its meaning is defined as 'a dishonest man, or a rogue'.

It provides an entertaining quotation demonstrating its use from diarist Samuel Pepys: 'The veriest knave and bufflehead that ever he saw in his life'. …