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A term in measuring speed at sea and equivalent to one nautical mile per hour. The word itself incorporates ‘miles per hour’, i.e. one does not speak of ‘knots per hour’, merely of so many knots. Primitive methods of measuring the speed of a ship at sea derived from dropping a wooden log over the bow and noting the time it took to pass the known length of the ship. This led to the use of the log-line trailed behind the ship which was knotted at intervals so fixed that as the log-line was allowed to reel off then the number of knots in the line which passed a fixed point in twenty-eight seconds gave the ship’s speed in nautical miles per hour.

Reference: The Penguin Business Dictionary , 3rd edt.