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#1
Old 02-08-2012, 07:37 AM
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Is 'Knackered' a rude word?

I hope you don't mind helping out someone from 'across the pond' with a question about language. More specifically it's the derivation of the word 'knackered'.

As a piece of background, the mother of a friend of mine was shocked and annoyed at me for saying 'I felt knackered' when asked how I was feeling. For my part I believed it to be a common enough expression for tiredness. I, and many others, use it, not just for a human feeling, but also to describe the state of inanimate objects. 'That car is knackered' for a vehicle that has broken down. 'The laptop is completely knackered' is a computer that won't reboot (well, you get the picture).

After a half-hearted apology I dared to ask her why she was offended by the word and she explained it is only supposed to mean 'tiredness after sexual activity'. This was a complete revelation to me, and I have not been able to find evidence that she is correct. Can any of you help?

As a side note, the slang word 'knackers' is often used to describe male rude bits (well it is in the UK, not sure if the word has made it over to the US). Could this be where her mistake lies, or have we derived the word 'knackers' from 'knackered' in the first place and she is completely right to scold me for using the term.
#2
Old 02-08-2012, 07:48 AM
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It is in that middle ground of words where you have to know your audience. A bit like "crap", nothing to most people but every so often you come across someone that doesn't like it.

Edit:
Oh and "tiredness after sexual activity" was how I learnt it at school back in the 80s.

Last edited by amanset; 02-08-2012 at 07:48 AM.
#3
Old 02-08-2012, 08:04 AM
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ISTR many years ago a mild controversy when Prince Charles described himself to assembled hacks as "knackered", after a polo match or something. I mean, people were probably amused more than shocked, but it seemed funny to hear him use the word.
Possibly comes from "knacker", a tradesman who takes away dead horses. If you're knackered, you're figuratively in the same state as the horse.

Last edited by Ximenean; 02-08-2012 at 08:08 AM.
#4
Old 02-08-2012, 08:12 AM
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But also your knackers are, in some cases, your balls.

And in Ireland "knacker" is an offensive term to refer to the travelling community, which has expanded out to mean underclass person - akin to the UK's "chav" which also comes from the travelling community.
#5
Old 02-08-2012, 08:14 AM
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I have never heard of the sexual connotation to 'Knackered' before. I have always thought it referred to the dead horse explanation. You also hear things being described as only fit for the knackers yard which again links to the disposal of dead horses.
#6
Old 02-08-2012, 08:19 AM
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I've always understood the use of "knackered" as "tired" to be a comparison to a slaughtered horse, like Ximenean points out. Saying "I'm knackered" is pretty much the same thing as saying "I'm beat" – yes, both terms literally refer to violently attacking something, but they're to be understood in a metaphorical sense. It never occurred to me that "knackered" could be offensive.
#7
Old 02-08-2012, 08:35 AM
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Although I've heard terms like "knackersack", I've never encountered "knackered" in a sexual context either. It always means someone is tired or worn out, or for an object it's so worn out it has stopped working.
#8
Old 02-08-2012, 08:44 AM
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I think it is, or was, regarded as mildly rude, and perhaps the perceived rudeness comes from the link to "knackers" as in bollocks.
As Not the Nine O'Clock News reported the Prince Charles incident: The Prince of Wales says that he regrets his use of the word "knackered", and that next time he feels shagged out, he'll keep his gob shut.
#9
Old 02-08-2012, 09:00 AM
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I think there is a class element to disapproval of the word as I would definitely see the term as working class. I am sure plenty of parents who wanted to think of themselves as middle class would have discouraged their children from saying knackered. In the same way using a term like ain't would be discouraged.

It's part of not speaking proper like ain't it.
#10
Old 02-08-2012, 09:16 AM
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My (scottish) dad used it all the time. It absolutely had zero sexual connotation, nor was in any way considered a rude word in our house.

Last edited by Leaffan; 02-08-2012 at 09:17 AM.
#11
Old 02-08-2012, 09:34 AM
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Originally Posted by Leaffan View Post
My (scottish) dad used it all the time. It absolutely had zero sexual connotation, nor was in any way considered a rude word in our house.
Yeah, but he was scottish.

AYE YA IS FOOKIN KNACKERED MON.
#12
Old 02-08-2012, 01:14 PM
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Never heard it used that way. It's always just been a straight synonym for "exhausted" to me. The only way I could have imagined it being offensive is if you referred to a person as "knackered" if they were old or injured.
#13
Old 02-08-2012, 01:53 PM
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In my part of the world, kicked in the knackers = kicked in the balls, but "knackered" has no such connotation (though "knacker" in any form is rarely used here).

Familiar by many may be the British TV series —picked up by PBS in the States — All Creatures Great and Small (from the books), about a pair of pre- and postwar veterinarians, in which the term "knacker's," or "knacker's yard" is used repeatedly as the place, as mentioned above, where dead animals were taken. Its use, then and now, is innocent.

"Knackered," though, means exhausted, probably from "knacker's yard." Nothing is more exhausted than dead. There's nothing offensive about it.
#14
Old 02-08-2012, 02:08 PM
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My husband was born and raised in the London area, and moved to the U.S. as an adult over 10 years ago. He will occasionally use "knackered," always to mean "tired" in the general sense - I've never heard him say it with any kind of sexual connotation.
#15
Old 02-08-2012, 04:44 PM
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It's in general use here and just means "tired".
#16
Old 02-08-2012, 04:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ximenean View Post
I think it is, or was, regarded as mildly rude, and perhaps the perceived rudeness comes from the link to "knackers" as in bollocks.
As Not the Nine O'Clock News reported the Prince Charles incident: The Prince of Wales says that he regrets his use of the word "knackered", and that next time he feels shagged out, he'll keep his gob shut.
I was just going to post the exact same quote! Amazing what you remember from 32 years ago.
#17
Old 02-08-2012, 05:01 PM
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In my 30 years of working as a writer and editor in the United States, I've never heard that word.
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#18
Old 02-08-2012, 05:05 PM
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I would have sworn knackered was a euphemism for being drunk...Learn something everyday.
#19
Old 02-08-2012, 05:27 PM
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I think it's an age related thing, for example, if I told my Mum I'm knackered she would just accept that I'm tired. If I told my Nan I'm knackered she would tell me not to use that word.
#20
Old 02-08-2012, 05:29 PM
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Originally Posted by amanset View Post
Yeah, but he was scottish.

AYE YA IS FOOKIN KNACKERED MON.
LOL.
I grew up in Scotland in the late 60s through the 1970s, and to me "knackered" = exhausted, tired, wiped out. Nothing more and nothing less, and I used to use the word in that exact context. I'm also aware of the word as it relates to dead animals and the people who picked them up. Which is where (until today) I assume the phrase came to mean really, really tired.

That was then and this is now; it appears the word has grown a connotation or two of late. I probably haven't used the word in three decades.
#21
Old 02-08-2012, 05:37 PM
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Originally Posted by chiroptera View Post
it appears the word has grown a connotation or two of late. I probably haven't used the word in three decades.
I think the opposite is true, the word has become less offensive over time.

In my experience, growing up in the London area in the 70's, older people were more likely to be offended by the word.

Last edited by Baron Skinley Von Clipper; 02-08-2012 at 05:40 PM.
#22
Old 02-08-2012, 05:44 PM
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I was told as a boy that "knackered" means "sexually exhausted".

It is used more generally to mean tired out. If it really does have a sexual connotation, it seems most people are unaware of it.

As pointed out above, "knacker" in Ireland is a very offensive word for someone from the Travelling community, so people would be cautious of saying "knackered" for that reason.
#23
Old 02-08-2012, 05:53 PM
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I'd never heard the sexual connotation before reading this thread. It is hardly a common word in the Great Lakes region, so "knacker" was always the guy who hauled away dead livestock carcasses and "knackered" was always really tired, to the point of being worn out like an overused draught horse "on its last legs."
(Even then, I doubt I have heard it much outside the circle of my in-laws among whom are many, many farriers and farmers.)

(I guess I could see it being used after a really exhausting bout of sexual activity, but I would have assumed the "tired/on my last legs" meaning without thinking that "knackered," itself, carried a sexual connotation. Is it regional? Is it generational?)

Last edited by tomndebb; 02-08-2012 at 05:56 PM.
#24
Old 02-08-2012, 06:05 PM
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Originally Posted by Gary "Wombat" Robson View Post
In my 30 years of working as a writer and editor in the United States, I've never heard that word.
I have never heard it in US English, but it's quite common (in my experience) with UK English. I've never noted any rude or impolite connotation to it.
#25
Old 02-08-2012, 06:21 PM
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These days it's only rude to people who consider 'bum' and 'crap' to be terribly rude words and think girls shouldn't whistle, i.e. my Dad. I doubt you'd meet anyone under 50 who was offended by it.
#26
Old 02-08-2012, 07:54 PM
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Originally Posted by SciFiSam View Post
These days it's only rude to people who consider 'bum' and 'crap' to be terribly rude words and think girls shouldn't whistle, i.e. my Dad. I doubt you'd meet anyone under 50 who was offended by it.
"Bum" is considered extremely rude in the US. You're supposed to call them "homeless".
#27
Old 02-08-2012, 08:53 PM
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I've never heard of the post sex meaning but my mum disliked the word, because it was vulgar I assumed. Supposedly the cockney rhyming slang is cream crackered but the only person I know who uses that is a Yorkshireman.
#28
Old 02-08-2012, 09:05 PM
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I too was taught it was "tired after sex" in the playground, but that meaning evaporated as I became an adult. I wonder if it's just one of those kid ULs.
#29
Old 02-08-2012, 09:28 PM
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In Australia knackered means you were only fit for the knacker's yard, worn out etc.

Knackers is also slang for your gonads.

Most people wouldn't be offended but I wouldn't use it in a business meeting.
#30
Old 02-08-2012, 09:40 PM
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I've only heard it in the dead horse context. And indeed I learned the word from James Herriot books when I was a kid.
#31
Old 02-08-2012, 09:46 PM
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Originally Posted by pulykamell View Post
I have never heard it in US English, but it's quite common (in my experience) with UK English. I've never noted any rude or impolite connotation to it.
Does anyone else get the sense it's catching on here? I'll bet in five years, everyone will be saying it.
#32
Old 02-08-2012, 10:01 PM
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Huh, never heard the sex-connotation before. I really like the word, it seems such a good description of being really tired. And I can use it in front of my upper-middle class gran with no problem.

Anyway, I always associated it with the knacker as well (and using a word that means "balls" for "tired after sex" doesn't make sense to me). The whole thing rather smells of the "niggardly confusion". I can imagine a word that is associated with common speech becomes suspect of actually being offensive.

Etymology online seems somewhat inconclusive, relating it to castration but locating its origins in the dead horse region. But I think I'd still call that a win for the dead-horse-camp.
#33
Old 02-09-2012, 12:26 AM
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As the original poster, just wanted to say thank you for all your responses. I can't believe I never associated the word with 'knacker's yard', which I have heard many times on British TV (if anyone remembers Steptoe and Son (remade in the US as Sanford and Son I believe) it was used almost every episode.

Just to push the question again though, does anyone have any idea of the origin of the actual word 'knackered'? What I mean is, if it comes from the same source as 'knacker's yard' where did they get 'knacker' from as well?

Thanks again everyone for your input, this is genuinely fascinating, and great to hear how people first heard or learnt the word.
#34
Old 02-09-2012, 01:22 AM
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My computer dictionary:
Quote:
ORIGIN late 16th cent. (originally denoting a harness-maker, then a slaughterer of horses): possibly from obsolete knack ‘trinket’ The word also had the sense ‘old worn-out horse’ (late 18th cent). It is unclear whether the verb represents a figurative use of ‘slaughter,’ from the noun sense, or of ‘castrate,’ from a slang sense of the noun, ‘testicles.’
The Online Etymology Dictionary:
Quote:
usually in past tense, knackered, "to kill, castrate" (1855), but most often used in weakened sense of "to tire out" (1883); apparently from knacker (n.) "worn-out or useless horse," 1812, of unknown origin; possibly from a dialectal survival of a Scandinavian word represented by O.N. hnakkur "saddle," hnakki "back of the neck," and thus possibly related to neck (n.).
Edit: Saw after posting that gracer beat me to the Etymology Dictionary.

Last edited by Kenm; 02-09-2012 at 01:25 AM.
#35
Old 02-09-2012, 02:50 AM
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Knackers meaning testicles and knackered meaning tired have different roots.

Knack, a verb meaning to knock or to strike sounding blows goes back to the fifteenth century. From that sense we get knackers, a seventeenth-century term for a musical instrument like a pair of castanets, involving two hinged pieces of wood which are knocked together to produce a sound. And from the nineteenth century the word starts to get applied to a pair of testicles. You can see why.

Then we have knack, a noun meaning a trick or artifice, or an adroit or ingenious manner of accomplishing something. This sense survives in phrases like “he is forever breaking the rules, but he has the knack of avoiding detection”. From this we get another sense, a clever contrivance or modification to some object. This kind of knack may improve the utility of the object, or it may be ornamental. From this, it’s though, we get knacker, a saddler or harness-maker (sixteenth century), and from this we get knacker, one who buys worn-out horses, slaughters them and renders them down for glue and leather. And that gives us knacker, a verb, meaning to slaughter and boil down for glue, which gives us knackered, the feeling you have after you’ve been slaughtered and boiled down for glue.

The notion that knackered refers specifically to exhaustion through sexual excess probably comes from a comparatively recent conflation of the two words. Until comparatively recently everyone knew what a knacker did and what went on in a knacker’s yard, and it would not have occurred to them that knackered had any sexual connotation.

I grew up in Ireland in the 1960s and 70s and knackered was a colloquial, informal word for “tired”, with no sexual connotations. We were also familiar with knackers meaning testicles, but did not consider that there was a link. Knacker meaning an intinerant traveler was derogatory. It referred to the fact that travelers used to deal in (generally low-grade) horses.

Last edited by UDS; 02-09-2012 at 02:51 AM.
#36
Old 02-09-2012, 03:02 AM
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Originally Posted by UDS View Post
knackered, the feeling you have after you’ve been slaughtered and boiled down for glue.
I know THAT feeling
#37
Old 02-09-2012, 03:19 AM
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Old English playground joke from the 80's:-

What's the difference between a fit bird and an unsurfaced road?

One knackers your tyres, and the other tires your knackers.
#38
Old 02-09-2012, 03:21 AM
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NM

Last edited by Dahu; 02-09-2012 at 03:21 AM.
#39
Old 02-09-2012, 04:34 AM
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Originally Posted by jjimm View Post
I too was taught it was "tired after sex" in the playground, but that meaning evaporated as I became an adult. I wonder if it's just one of those kid ULs.
I think you're probably on to something there. A bit like the African bum disease.
#40
Old 02-09-2012, 06:35 AM
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Slightly OT, but clearly related. Bollocks. I think the one time I have had a posting killed by a moderator on a list was when I used the word. Bollocks aka knakers, aka testicles, was considered rude. However for bollocks we have a very famous legal opinion that differs. The etymology of bollocks presented is rather interesting in its own right.
#41
Old 02-09-2012, 07:37 AM
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Originally Posted by UDS View Post
Knackers meaning testicles and knackered meaning tired have different roots....
Really well-written and informative post -- thanks!
#42
Old 02-09-2012, 10:40 AM
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Originally Posted by Francis Vaughan View Post
Slightly OT, but clearly related. Bollocks. I think the one time I have had a posting killed by a moderator on a list was when I used the word. Bollocks aka knakers, aka testicles, was considered rude. However for bollocks we have a very famous legal opinion that differs. The etymology of bollocks presented is rather interesting in its own right.
What's interesting is "bolloxed" means tired too.
#43
Old 02-09-2012, 01:31 PM
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Originally Posted by hibernicus View Post
...

As pointed out above, "knacker" in Ireland is a very offensive word for someone from the Travelling community, so people would be cautious of saying "knackered" for that reason....
What is "the Travelling community"?
#44
Old 02-09-2012, 01:57 PM
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Originally Posted by Leo Bloom View Post
What is "the Travelling community"?
A polite umbrella term for cohesive groups of people who have no permanent address, move from place to place together, and are of low socioeconomic status. Most are Roma (a.k.a. "Gypsies"), but some aren't.

Last edited by JKellyMap; 02-09-2012 at 01:59 PM.
#45
Old 02-09-2012, 01:58 PM
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(double post)

Last edited by JKellyMap; 02-09-2012 at 01:59 PM.
#46
Old 02-09-2012, 02:01 PM
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Originally Posted by JKellyMap View Post
A polite umbrella term for cohesive groups of people who have no permanent address, move from place to place together, and are of low socioeconomic status. Most are Roma (a.k.a. "Gypsies"), but some aren't.
Not in that context it isn't. It specifically refers to Irish Travellers, not Roma or other groups.
#47
Old 02-09-2012, 02:39 PM
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Very enlightening! My only previous exposure to the term was from Eddie Izzard's Dress to Kill when he described Swindon as "knackered" and "kind of Fresno". Having never visited or heard about the reputation of Fresno CA, and being unfamiliar with the expression, I could draw no conclusion as to the civic character of Swindon. Now I have a vague notion of what both Fresno and the home of the (in)famous Magic Roundabout are like.
#48
Old 02-09-2012, 02:53 PM
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Originally Posted by An Gadaí View Post
[In this] context it isn't. It specifically refers to Irish Travellers, not Roma or other groups.
Fascinating. Estimated 10,000 to 40,000 in USA!

In Ulysses (and no doubt the Wake) Joyce has Stephen Daedalus recite a love poem (meaningless to almost everybody w/o a translation/concordance).

The standard concordance says that it is "gypsy cant." I dont know the difference between Roma and Traveller cant, but it seems that the encyclopedic Joyce would have anything but an Irish-sourced cant.

I'd be happy to supply line references--or copy over the text of the poem to-- this threadin Ulysses (it is now on-line for free) and the translation of the lines, as given by the concordance (author's name forgotten at the moment).

Last edited by Leo Bloom; 02-09-2012 at 02:55 PM.
#49
Old 02-09-2012, 05:31 PM
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Originally Posted by Leo Bloom View Post
The standard concordance says that it is "gypsy cant." I dont know the difference between Roma and Traveller cant, but it seems that the encyclopedic Joyce would have anything but an Irish-sourced cant.
Two English words that came from Shelta (Irish Traveller cant): "bloke" and "moniker".
#50
Old 02-09-2012, 06:58 PM
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They don't bleep it in BBC's Top Gear and, there, it's always meant very tired.
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