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I am analyzing an essay and I am trying to find the origin of the word "kick". The context it is used in is:

She kicks the ball with all her might.

Dictionary.com and Etymonline both say its origin is unknown.

Is its origin kiken?

Origin and Etymology of kick

Middle English kiken

First Known Use: 14th century

That is what Merriam Webster says, yet since most sites say it is of an "unknown origin" I am not sure kiken is the origin or maybe something else.

Does anybody know the origin of kick and maybe have some links they can point me to?

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Without a doubt, Modern English "kick" comes from the Middle English word "kiken". For example, this quote from Bartholomaeus's De Proprietatibus Rerum (ME translation), 1398:

Whanne þe modir wasschiþ & kembiþ hem, þey [children] kyken & praunsen & putte wt feet & hondis.

I think this translates roughly to "When the mother washed and combed him, they [children] kick and prance and put with feet and hands."

The bigger question is where Middle English got the word. Unfortunately, the answer is we don't know for sure. Etymonline says:

late 14c., "to strike out with the foot," of uncertain origin, perhaps from Old Norse kikna "bend backwards, sink at the knees." "The doubts OED has about the Scandinavian origin of kick are probably unfounded" [Liberman]. Older sources guessed it to be from Celtic.

Here's what the OED says:

Middle English kike, kyke, of unknown origin. The Welsh cicio, often cited as the source, is from English (Prof. Rhŷs)

(So, Welsh cicio was derived from the word in English, not the other way around.)

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The thing is, kiken is pretty much just another way of spelling kick (it has an old infinitive suffix -en that isn't used anymore, but that regularly occurred at the end of infinitives in Middle English). So saying kick is from Middle English kiken doesn't explain much about its etymology: the origin of its form and meaning. The dictionaries that say the origin is unknown aren't saying that there have been absolutely no known changes in its use, pronunciation and spelling over time: they're saying that we don't know of any significant developments within English that led up to the word's current form and meaning, and we don't know the origins of this word outside of English.

The earliest OED example is from what is estimated to be around 1386, from some manuscript of Chaucer's Wife of Bath's Tale:

Ther is noon of vs alle If any wight wol clawe vs on the galle That we nel kike [v.r. kyke].

I don't know enough Middle English to give a competent translation*, but the OED classifies this beneath the defintion " a. intr. To strike out with the foot." You can see that this is quite close to the meaning in your sentence, aside from the fact that your sentence uses "kick" as a transitive verb.

The first OED example for the transitive use of the verb is from 1598, but using a verb as transitive vs. intransitive is not a big shift in the meaning.


*Laurel linked to a translation/edited version by Laing Purves that gives the meaning as follows:

For truly there is none among us all,
If any wight will *claw us on the gall,* *see note <8>*
That will not kick...

[...] 8. Claw us on the gall: Scratch us on the sore place.

  • You can find a translation of the passage here. – Laurel Feb 28 '18 at 5:32
  • Note that Dutch (and German) verbs still use the -en suffix (English: to work, Dutch: werken). Dutch still uses "kicken", meaning "to get a kick out of something" (i.e. immensely enjoying something) or "to remove a player" (from a lobby/game) – Flater Feb 28 '18 at 11:28
  • @Flater I don't know dutch, but reading that my first guess would be that it's the same as the german version, which was imported from english "kicken" with the same meaning you said; Though the literal translation of "kicken" into german would be "treten". – Cubic Feb 28 '18 at 11:38
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    @Cubic: indeed, "kicken" in Dutch and German is an anglicism. Wiktionary suggests that "to kick" might have the same indo-european root as the Dutch "kijken" (to look), but I don't see how those to meangins (kick and look) can originate from the same root. – Pakk Feb 28 '18 at 12:17
  • @pakk Scots has the word "keek" with the same meaning as English "peek" (i.e. to look). Surely "kijken" and "keek" are related, so what is the etymology of kijken? – Nicholas Shanks Feb 28 '18 at 14:03

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