Take a knee

The idiom take a knee has been in use since at least the 1960s, but the meaning of the phrase has changed drastically over the years. An idiom is a word, group of words or phrase that has a figurative meaning that is not easily deduced from its literal definition. Often using descriptive imagery, common idioms are words and phrases used in the English language in order to convey a concise idea, and are often spoken or are considered informal or conversational. English idioms can illustrate emotion more quickly than a phrase that has a literal meaning, even when the etymology or origin of the idiomatic expression is lost. An idiom is a metaphorical figure of speech, and it is understood that it is not a use of literal language. Figures of speech have definitions and connotations that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. Mastery of the turn of phrase of an idiom or other parts of speech is essential for the English learner. Many English as a Second Language students do not understand idiomatic expressions such as beating around the bush, ballpark figure, let the cat out of the bag, hit the sack, Achilles heel, barking up the wrong tree, kick the bucket, a dime a dozen, under the weather, piece of cake, when pigs fly, and raining cats and dogs, as they attempt to translate them word for word, which yields only the literal meaning. In addition to learning vocabulary and grammar, one must understand the phrasing of the figurative language of idiomatic phrases in order to know English like a native speaker. We will examine the definition of the phrase take a knee, where it came from and some of its use in sentences.

To take a knee is an idiom that has become fraught with political implications, but the term has been in use benignly for decades. The oldest known use of the phrase to take a knee occurred in the 1960s, though the phrase is probably older. Originally, an invitation to take a knee was an invitation to pray during a sports practice or sports game, either as a group or silently. We know that to take a knee is also used in the military. Soldiers may be asked to take a knee while they are instructed or praised on the job, or as a method of taking a watchful rest. While the participants literally take a knee, the phrase may be considered an idiom as it implies that more is taking place than simply kneeling on one knee. In American football, a receiver of a kickoff may take a knee in order to officially end a play. This way, the opposing team may not tackle him. Most recently, NFL players have been taking a knee during the playing of the American national anthem in order to highlight racial problems. While many support this action and others are vociferously opposed,  the history of taking a knee shows that it is usually interpreted as a respectful pause, whether to pray, listen to a commanding officer or coach, stop the action, or to rest. Related terms are takes a knee, took a knee, taking a knee, taken a knee.


This time it was Ole Miss basketball players, eight of them, who took a knee during the playing of the National Anthem at a home basketball game. (The Arkansas Times)

Gatewood probably would have scored his first career touchdown had Auburn not told him to take a knee from the 1-yard line to run out the clock on a 63-14 victory. (The Times Daily)

Perry previously had to take a knee from the concert circuit, canceling his Sweetzerland Manifesto tour this winter so he could spend the rest of 2018 recuperating from a medical emergency. (The Boston Herald)

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