CNN: Timing of leaked tape could be “death knell"

Dictionary lookups of knell spike after speculation over the future of the Trump campaign

A just-released private conversation recorded in 2005 by “Access Hollywood” revealed Donald Trump’s apparently proud description, in graphic and vulgar language, of both his attempted seduction of a married woman and how he objectifies, gropes, and kisses women in general. Death knell was looked up by many people, because it was used in some of the press coverage of the recording, including a Politico headline:

Trump tape could be campaign’s death knell

And a caption used by CNN:

Timing of leaked tape could be “death knell”

Knell comes from an Old English word that was a synonym of toll, meaning “to sound a bell.” Knell can mean “a sound of a bell when it is rung slowly because someone has died,” and, more broadly, “an indication of the end or the failure of something." Death knell means “an action or event presaging death or destruction.”

The use of similar phrases, such as death’s knell, goes as far back as 1628, when it was used as the title of a book by William Perkins. In 1768 a phrase close to the one we use today was used by Francis Beaumont in his play The Royal Merchant: "Nay—then I'll ring my own death's knell."

However, the date currently accepted as the earliest known written use of death knell is 1773, when Patrick Brydone used it in A Tour Through Sicily and Malta: “Every stroke of the flint sounded in Pasqual's ears like his death-knell.”

Knell is a word of considerably older vintage, with use dating back to before the 12th century.

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