"These Charming Knitteds Will Flatter.." - A Brief Look At Knitting & Language


When Caroline posted this photo to her Instagram account, I don't think she expected the discussion to revolve around the language usage in the caption.

Lately we have had some great discussions about knitting language at the great round-table of Twitter. What is the right past tense of the verb "to knit"; is it more correct to say "I knitted a hat last night" or "I knit a hat last night"; why"knit/knitted" but not "knat"? Susan posted a lovely poem from 1915 as part of that discussion.

Caroline's photo didn't spawn as big a discussion, but several people noted the odd phrasing. "Larger sized knitteds are so often.."


I was sure I could explain this odd word, but first let's cast an eye at the word itself. A Google search throws up about 10,600 results, most of which refer to an outdated way of referring to knitted items (particularly baby items). Geographically I mostly get referrals to Antipodean knitting sites. My favourite dictionary tool gave me many results, but all of them gave "knitted" as an adjective or as a verb - not as a noun.

So, what is my explanation for this curious language usage? I am not saying it is necessarily the right explanation but it is a likely explanation. Please add your thoughts in the comments!

First, we need to look at figures of speech. Everyone has heard of metaphors:

Martha is a gem.Martha isn't actually a precious stone, but the word "gem" is used so we can all see that Martha is precious and valued.

Knitting with this yarn is like knitting with butter. The yarn isn't actually a greasy dairy product, but its qualities are likened to the softness or pliability of butter. This is a specific type of metaphor that is called a simile (note: although I have seen the butter simile used often in knitting contexts, I must admit it still baffles me).

Then we move to a figure of speech that fewer people have heard of - metonymy. While metaphor draws comparisons between two very different things (Martha & a gemstone; yarn & butter), metonymy refers to something already associated or related.

Jane downloaded Arcade Fire last night. Jane did not download an entire Canadian band last night, you know. Here the band name does not refer to the actual, physical incarnation of the band but their music.

And via metaphor, simile and metonymy, we get to the figure of speech known as synecdoche. Synecdoche is when a part of something is used to refer to the whole. Confused? I promise you use synecdoches all the time without realising it.

I'll get my needles. Any knitter will know that actually means "hang on, I'll get my knitting project which comprises yarn, knitting needles, and possibly a pattern".

Harriet put on her woollies. This is a quaint British English phrase which essentially means that Harriet is putting on a woollen jumper. The jumper's material becomes short-hand for the jumper itself

Lend me your ears and I'll sing you a song .. even the Beatles understood the value of a good synecdoche. They just want you to listen, not do a Van Gogh (and "to do a Van Gogh" is a metonymical figure of speech!).

But where does all that leave us? When Caroline posted her photo, I began wondering if "knitteds" is not a synecdochical noun phrase (!). Much like Harriet's jumper, the material quality of the item becomes short-hand for the item itself. A hand-knitted cardigan or hat become "knitteds" - the adjective "hand-knitted" is shorted to "knitted" and is turned into a noun which can become pluralised whenever needed.

And suddenly something that looked like very strange grammar in an old knitting magazine can suddenly look like charming shorthand for discerning knitters.

I love language.

The Skies, Now Undisturbed

The wise elders would explain that inside the aircraft, passengers, who had only paid the price of a few books for the privilege, would impatiently and ungratefully shut their window blinds to the views, would sit in silence next to strangers while watching films about love and friendship - and would complain that the food in miniature plastic beakers before them was not quite as tasty as the sort they could prepare in their own kitchens. The elders would add that the skies, now undisturbed except by the meandering progress of bees and sparrows, had once thundered to the sound of airborne leviathans, that entire swathes of Britain's cities had been disturbed by their progress

Alain de Botton - A World Without Planes (from the BBC)

Alain de Botton wrote his piece in reaction to the last few days' "travel chaos" (i.e. man is not greater than nature). I am reminded of Ben Marcus' The Age of Wire & String, a strange little book which I struggled to understand. I think it is the ritualised language both de Botton and Marcus use.

Completely unrelated: Death Metal Lyric OR William Blake Quote? Go on ..

Meanwhile I am still torn on whether to use a particular yarn for a particular cardigan pattern. When I look at the yarn I think "texture! cables! I have 1700 yrds!" but the cardigan is rather plain and takes 1050 yrds. Woe.

On Knitwear, London and Beginnings

I have begun stalking people's knitwear on Ravelry. I see a piece of handknit, recognise the pattern and search the Ravelry database until I find the actual piece of knitwear and the knitter. Today I saw a pair of really, really cute handknitted gloves. I asked the girl about the pattern and the yarn, and I found the actual gloves on Ravelry some five minutes ago. I love Ravelry - even if I have become a demented stalker determined to track down handknitted items so I can mark them as a favourite.

Notable knitting blog post about knitting terminology and differences in language. I do so love when people get really passionate about words. English is my second language and my knitting terminology is a sad mixture of British English and American English. I say "yarn" most of the time and "yarn over" ALL of the time, but I do try to say "tension square" and "double knitting". Funnily enough I have English words in my knitting vocabulary for which I have no Danish equivalent. "Skein"? "Lace knitting"? It took me a long time to figure out that "a ball winder" is a "krydsnøgleapparat" (and then took my mum some dedicated googling to find out where she could get me one for Christmas). I'm still not sure, though, how to translate "hønsestrik" into English - it was this funky 1970s political knitting phenomenon in Denmark which was sort of fair isle goes Peruvian folklore with added Marxism and second-wave feminism. You can see some modern day hønsestrik here although it seems pretty relaxed (and is knitted to a pattern unlike the original hønsestrik) compared to some of the stuff I remember from my childhood.

Tonight I booked a flight to London for a work-related event. It still feels very strange just to pop in and out of London in one day. Sometimes I forget that I live just a few hundred miles from all these mythical places - York, Bath, Oxford, Cambridge, Brighton and London - which possessed such magic to a little girl in rural Denmark who read way too many books. I lived in London some sixteen years ago and have been a frequent visitor, but I have not visited since 2004. It'll feel peculiar to land at the airport, get the train and step out in the middle of the city. How my life has changed.

(Addendum: David bought me a cherry/geranium cupcake today to celebrate a new beginning to my life. He is the best.)


I had to laugh when I saw this little news story: Company seeks Glaswegian interpreter.

Today Translations spokesman, Mick Thorburn said: "Over the last few months we've had clients asking us for Glaswegian translators.


"Usually, the role would involve translating documents but in this case its more likely to be assisting foreign visitors to the city whose 'business English' is not good enough to understand the local dialect."


He added: "We're not necessarily looking for people who are particularly skilled in linguistics, just candidates who can help out clients who may struggle with native Glaswegian."

I remember arriving in Glasgow and not being able to understand most of what was being said around me. While getting some Glaswegian colleagues helped (although I have never found a use for the phrase "that fake bake is pure dead brilliant, hen"), I struggled until I twigged that Glaswegian is basically akin to my Danish uncles attempting to speak English. There is a certain flatness to Glaswegian intonation that is very, very similar to mid-Zealandic intonation and some words spoken with a broad Glaswegian accent sound more like their Danish counterpart than the actual standard English word: home becomes hame which sounds quite like a slurred mid-Zealandic hjem. For a girl who has tried to escape rural Denmark for most of her life, all this feels a bit like a cosmic joke.

Thanks to my friend Lise, I spent most of my lunch reading about the 16th best football team in the word ever. The most recent incarnation is through to next year's World Cup which bodes well for the amount of (tense) knitting I'll get done. Huzzah!

Girlfriend in a Coma

march09-068Kraków is not a great place to shop if you are into your crafts. I managed to track down a couple of pasmanteria (I have no idea how to pluralise the word - it means "haberdashery") on Ul. Karmelicka, but the best one I found was on the corner of Ul. Królewska and Aleja Juliusza Słowackiego. I had to pass through a room of children's clothes and another filled with children's shoes before hitting the tiny pasmanteria. I bought a few buttons using a lot of sign language, pointing at my cardigan's buttons and speaking a hybrid between Russian, German and the few Polish words I knew. I wish I had known that the Polish word for "buttons" is guziki.

Dave has uploaded a few Kraków photos, by the way.

I'm now on my third day of resting after our little Polish adventure. I do not mention my health very often, but I wasn't amused that I had to take painkillers yesterday just to get out of bed. I think today will be yet another slow day, but hopefully that means I will be back to normal tomorrow. Sometimes I really do regard my body as my enemy.

And thank you so, so much for the extraordinary response to my Heritage shawl.