The word genuflect (referring to the act of touching your knee to the floor to show respect) was first used in a 1630 collection of writings by the poet John Taylor. That was back-formed from the noun genuflection, which is about a hundred years older. It comes from Medieval Latin genuflectionem, from Latin genuflectere, which literally means "bend the knee", being composed of the word for "knee", genu, and "bend", flectere. Genu, also a rare anatomical term in English, traces to a Proto-Indo-European root that was spelled the same and meant "angle". Flectere, which is part of the words deflect, reflect, and flex, is reconstructed as deriving from Proto-Italic flekto, and beyond that it has unknown Proto-Indo-European origins. Usage of genuflect in literature peaked in the late 1940s and has sharply declined since.
Hello! I'm Adam Aleksic, a senior studying government and linguistics at Harvard University, where I co-founded the Harvard Undergraduate Linguistics Society. In addition to etymology, I also really enjoy trivia, politics, vexillology, geography, board games, conlanging, art history, and law.