Definition of knuckle in English:

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Pronunciation: /ˈnʌk(ə)l/


1A part of a finger at a joint where the bone is near the surface, especially where the finger joins the hand.
Example sentences
  • Brian rubbed his thumb back and forth over my index finger knuckle, tickling me a little bit.
  • Raising his right hand, he laid the knuckle of his index finger against his chin.
  • Today there's only a miniscule red patch next to the knuckle of my ring finger which isn't even sore.
1.1A projection of the carpal or tarsal joint of a quadruped.
1.2A joint of meat consisting of the knuckle of an animal together with the adjoining parts: a knuckle of pork
More example sentences
  • Her recipe for an olio required ‘a fowl, a couple of partridges, a piece of a leg of mutton, a knuckle of veal, and a few rump steaks; also a piece of good streaked bacon or ham’.
  • There are also culinary records indicating its use for pickled pigs feet, breaded veal knuckles, and sweet breads.
  • I'm still not sure what ‘capilutes of lamb’ are, but can vouch for the pork knuckle which one of my companions ordered.


[with object] Rub or press (something, especially the eyes) with the knuckles.
Example sentences
  • Cora followed suit, knuckling the small of her back and grateful to be off her feet.
  • A small boy laughed at me on the street and shouted something about girls and tongues so I pinned him down and knuckled his head.
  • She rose from the chair, knuckling her lower back, and that activity segued into a long stretch-and-yawn.


near the knuckle

British informal Verging on the indecent or offensive.
Example sentences
  • Although its gross, flatulent Scotsman was pretty near the knuckle, most of us forgave Mike Myers that particular piece of stereotyping and laughed anyway.
  • Life Stinks, a 1991 departure from parody about a tycoon living in the gutter, was too near the knuckle for many American audiences whereas Dracula: Dead and Loving It was just another retread.
  • When I watched it on TV, I sweated all the way through it because it was so near the knuckle.
risqué, racy, sexy, naughty, spicy, juicy, suggestive, ribald, indelicate, indecorous, indecent, immodest, off colour, dirty, rude, smutty, crude, bawdy, vulgar, salacious, coarse;
North American  gamy
informal raunchy, blue, close to the bone, near the bone
British informal fruity, saucy
euphemistic adult

Phrasal verbs


knuckle down

Apply oneself seriously to a task.
Example sentences
  • However, when there is work to be done he insists that you knuckle down and we know the time to be serious.
  • I have to give him credit for really knuckling down to his training and he cannot wait to get back into the ring.
  • I at least had the satisfaction of startling the idiot out of his numb trance before I knuckled down to the task at hand.

knuckle under

Submit to someone else’s authority.
Example sentences
  • The movie was a nasty, dark piece of work about needy characters knuckling under to their worst impulses.
  • Yet you've also seen some evidence of politicians knuckling under to the will of illegal alien advocacy groups.
  • If the Administration knuckles under now, its support will bleed away.
surrender, submit, capitulate, give in, give up, yield, give way, succumb, climb down, back down, quit, admit defeat, lay down one's arms, be defeated, be overcome, acquiesce, accede, accept, defer
informal throw in the towel, raise the white flag, throw in the sponge



Example sentences
  • While Ada sliced chicken, Wakefield focused binoculars on her knuckly hands.
  • Hit the edge of the drum with the knuckly part of your palm and let your fingers bounce off the head.
  • I watch Miss Match's knuckly fingers work the balance toward the upper end of the scale in five-pound increments.


Middle English knokel (originally denoting the rounded shape when a joint such as the elbow or knee is bent), from Middle Low German, Middle Dutch knökel, diminutive of knoke 'bone'. In the mid 18th century the verb knuckle (down) expressed setting the knuckles down to shoot the taw in a game of marbles, hence the notion of applying oneself with concentration.

  • In medieval times a knuckle was the rounded shape made by a joint like the elbow or knee when bent, but over the years it became limited to the joints of the fingers. The word may ultimately be related to knee (Old English). Someone prepared to knuckle down to something is ready to concentrate on a task, but the phrase originally comes from a game. People playing marbles in the 18th century set their knuckles down on the ground before shooting or casting the ‘taw’, a large marble. Something which threatens to go beyond the limits of decency can be described as being near the knuckle. This was originally used more generally to mean ‘close to the permitted limits of behaviour’.

Words that rhyme with knuckle

buckle, chuckle, muckle, ruckle, suckle, truckle

For editors and proofreaders

Line breaks: knuckle

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