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Why "knack"?

A lot of us have more time on our hands than usual at the moment, which (although it can be a mixed blessing) can mean more time to learn and try new things. This week, we’ve been finding out about the origins of “knack”…

At some point, we’ll tell the story of how we went from meeting almost 3 years ago at something best described as “social work summer camp” to launching a craft subscription box. But that’s a post for another day – plus we’re still trying to work out quite how that happened ourselves! What we’re thinking about today is: why knack is called knack, and what “knack” means.

What's in a name?

The first question is simple – our CEO Jan suggested the name knack before we had even really settled on what we were making, and it just felt right. Having been unable to continue with the face to face social activities we had been focusing on in South London due to the coronavirus outbreak, we were toying with different ideas of how we could best move more online to keep giving people fun and relaxed ways to try something new and connect over a shared interest. The idea to tie in an online interactive craft workshop with a subscription box took shape under the name knack, helped by the fact that whenever we told friends about our new idea, while views on the concept itself were mixed, everyone agreed “great name!”.

A couple of people pointed out that we’d be sharing the name with a popular video game, but we felt this shouldn’t cause too much confusion, and doesn’t seem to have been an issue so far.

Coloured name gift cards

But where did the word “knack” come from? Well, it’s been around longer than you might expect. It may have evolved from an old Middle English word “krak” meaning “a sharp blow”. According to Douglas Harper, in the 14th century the word emerged meaning “deception or trick” – found in Geoffrey Chaucer’s 1369 The Book of the Duchess, in which the knight proclaims “She ne used no suche knakkes smale” (translation: she didn’t use petty tricks like that!).

Fast forward to 1581 and “knack” was being used more how we do today, as in Richard Mulcaster’s lengthily titled Positions wherin those primitive circumstances be examined, which are necessarie for the training up of children, either for skill in their booke, or health in their bodie. Mulcaster observes: “commonly they that have any naturall towardnesse to write well, have a knacke of drawing to” (translation: people with a talent for writing tend to have a knack for drawing too) – although I’m not sure this is always true.

Nowadays, the Oxford Dictionary defines it as “a special skill or ability that you have naturally or can learn” or “a habit of doing something”. This fits perfectly with what we want people to be able to get from knack – trying and learning something new, and the habit of taking the time regularly to do this alongside others.

We also liked the link to the term “knick-knack” as a small decorative object, as when we’re crafting we are often making or using items like this. Until doing some research for this post, I’d never come across the 1989 Pixar short animated film Knick Knack, featuring a snow globe snowman and a number of other travel souvenirs. Odd but charming, here it is for a few minutes of light entertainment during another weekend indoors for many of us:

As ever, please get in touch to tell us what you think or if you’d like to write a post for us – we will be having our first guest blog post next week which we are very excited for!