The letter K comes from the Greek letter Κ (kappa), which was taken from the Semitickaph, the symbol for an open hand. This, in turn, was likely adapted by Semitic tribes who had lived in Egypt from the hieroglyph for "hand" representing /ḏ/ in the Egyptian word for hand, ⟨ḏ-r-t⟩ (likely pronounced /ˈcʼaːɾat/ in Old Egyptian). The Semites evidently assigned it the sound value /k/ instead, because their word for hand started with that sound.
In the earliest Latin inscriptions, the letters C, K and Q were all used to represent the sounds /k/ and /ɡ/ (which were not differentiated in writing). Of these, Q was used before a rounded vowel (e.g. ⟨EQO⟩ 'ego'), K before /a/ (e.g. ⟨KALENDIS⟩ 'calendis'), and C elsewhere. Later, the use of C and its variant G replaced most usages of K and Q. K survived only in a few fossilized forms such as Kalendae, "the calends".
After Greek words were taken into Latin, the Kappa was transliterated as a C. Loanwords from other alphabets with the sound /k/ were also transliterated with C. Hence, the Romance languages generally use C, in imitating Classical Latin's practice, and have K only in later loanwords from other language groups. The Celtic languages also tended to use C instead of K, and this influence carried over into Old English.
English is now the only Germanic language to productively use "hard" ⟨c⟩ (outside the digraph ⟨ck⟩) rather than ⟨k⟩ (although Dutch uses it in loan words of Latin origin, and the pronunciation of these words follows the same hard/soft distinction as in English).
The letter ⟨k⟩ is silent at the start of an English word when it comes before the letter ⟨n⟩, as in the words "knight," "knife," "knot," "know," and "knee".
In the International System of Units (SI), the SI prefix for one thousand is kilo-, officially abbreviated as k: for example, prefixed to metre/meter or its abbreviation m, kilometre or km signifies a thousand metres. As such, people occasionally represent numbers in a non-standard notation by replacing the last three zeros of the general numeral with K, as in 30K for 30,000.
In most languages where it is employed, this letter represents the sound /k/ (with or without aspiration) or some similar sound.
ₖ : Subscript small k was used in the Uralic Phonetic Alphabet prior to its formal standardization in 1902
Ʞ ʞ : Turned capital and small k were used in transcriptions of the Dakota language in publications of the American Board of Ethnology in the late 19th century. Turned small k was also used for a velar click in the International Phonetic Alphabet but its use was withdrawn in 1970.
K is used to indicate thousands, especially when expressing amounts of money, e.g. $20K = twenty thousand dollars.
In the United Kingdom under the old system (before 2001), a licence plate that begins with "K" for example "K123 XYZ" would correspond to a vehicle registered between August 1, 1992, and July 31, 1993. Again under the old system, a licence plate that ends with "K" for example "ABC 123K" would correspond to a vehicle that was registered between August 1, 1971, and July 31, 1972.
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