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knot 1 (nŏt)
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n.
1.
a. A compact intersection of interlaced material, such as cord, ribbon, or rope.
b. A fastening made by tying together lengths of material, such as rope, in a prescribed way.
2. A decorative bow of ribbon, fabric, or braid.
3. A unifying bond, especially a marriage bond.
4. A tight cluster of persons or things:a knot of onlookers.
5. A feeling of tightness:a knot of fear in my stomach.
6. A complex problem.
7.
a. A hard place or lump, especially on a tree, at a point from which a stem or branch grows.
b. The round, often darker cross section of such a lump as it appears on a piece of cut lumber.Also called node.
8. A protuberant growth or swelling in a tissue:a knot in a gland.
9.
a. Nautical A division on a log line used to measure the speed of a ship.
b. Abbr. kn. or kt.A unit of speed, one nautical mile per hour, approximately 1.85 kilometers (1.15 statute miles) per hour.
c. A distance of one nautical mile.
10. Mathematics A closed loop that is embedded in three-dimensional space and that can be intertwined with or tangled in itself, but that cannot intersect itself.
v.knot·ted, knot·ting, knots
v.tr.
1. To tie in or fasten with a knot or knots.
2. To snarl or entangle.
3. To cause to form a knot or knots.
v.intr.
1. To form a knot or knots.
2. To become snarled or entangled.

[Middle English, fromOld Englishcnotta.]

Word History: In nautical usage, knot is a unit of speed, not of distance, and has a built-in meaning of "per hour." A ship is said to travel at ten knots (and not ten knots per hour). Although the knot is defined as one nautical mile per hour, the similarity in sound between knot and nautical mile is entirely coincidental. The unit called the knot originated in a traditional method of measuring the speed of ships in use at least since the 16th century. A long rope was knotted at fixed intervals, wound on a spool, and tied to the end of a large wooden wedge, called the chip log or just log. When the log was thrown into the water, it would remain in roughly the same place where it splashed down. As the ship moved away, the rope would pay out and sailors would count the number of knots in the rope that were paid out over a fixed stretch of time, usually measured with a sand hourglass. Eventually, the calculation of speed using this method was made easier by knotting the rope at intervals of 47 feet and 3 inches and using an hourglass that ran out after 30 seconds. If one knot in the rope was paid out during this time, the ship was said to be moving at one knot, or one nautical mile per hour. Because of adjustments in the standard values of units of measurement over the years, a 28-second interval of time is now used in calculating a ship's speed using a rope in this way, but the basic principle remains the same.
(click for a larger image)
(click for a larger image)
knot1
top: barrel and figure eight knots
bottom: in wood

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition copyright ©2017 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
 

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