This week I’ll discuss several Dutch and English words that are closely related. Over time these words may have changed in meaning, but their appearances still hold keys to their original meanings.
KNECHT, servant is such a word. Change two letters and you have KNIGHT. Pronounce this word the Dutch way, /–k-n-i-g-t-/ and it sounds almost the same as KNECHT. This word was first recorded in the Dutch language in 1240. Yes, in the turbulent period of valiant knights in armour.
But, you say, a knight is a courageous nobleman whereas a KNECHT is a humble farm-hand… You’re right, however, in origin they are both servants. A knight serves a king and a knecht a boer or farmer. The original meaning of ‘kniht’ was ‘boy’. From around 1100 in England it meant ‘military follower of a king or other superior’. In the Low Countries the word kept its original meaning.
So what is a knight in Dutch? A RIDDER. This word came to our language as a literal translation of French ‘chevalier’, horse-rider: rider-> ridder. A person riding horses is now called ‘ruiter’ in Dutch.
If you want to know more about medieval Dutch knights visit the Literary Museum in The Hague or their wonderful website.