Knights who say Ni

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Michael Palin as one of the "Knights Who Say Ni"

The Knights Who Say Ni About this sound Audio (US)  are a band of knights from the comedy film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who are feared for the manner in which they utter the word ni (/ˈni/, like knee but clipped short). They are the keepers of the sacred words: Ni, Peng and Neee-Wom.[1]

Details[edit]

The Knights are led by a man who is approximately 12 feet tall with disproportionately short arms and reindeer antlers inserted into his helmet (played by Michael Palin standing on a ladder; the original screenplay suggested that he be played by "Mike standing on John's shoulders"). The other Knights are of normal human proportions and act as a chorus, only repeating words and phrases that the head Knight has spoken.

"Ni!" is only the most notable of the sacred words which they are assigned to protect, the others being "Peng" and "Neee-wom." All of these words are infamous for the palpable horror and fear (and suggested pain) they bring about, whether delivered by the knights or not. According to King Arthur, "Those who hear them seldom live to tell the tale!" Later, the leader of the Knights who say Ni changes them to the Knights who say an odd string of syllables (although the knights apart from the head knight continue to say 'Ni'). The saying is spelled the following way according to the "script" subtitles available on the collector's edition DVD: "Ekke Ekke Ekke Ekke Ptangya Zoooooooom Boing Ni!" (In the original script, the Knights' new words are "Neeeow ... wum ... ping!".) King Arthur, unable to pronounce all this, addresses them as "Knights who ’til recently said Ni."

The Knights happen to have a weakness in that a number of words, when spoken to them, have the same effect on them as their saying "Ni" has on others. The only one of these words that is revealed in the film is the word "it", which is picked up on when Arthur, upon being asked to cut down the mightiest tree in the forest with a herring, declares that "it can't be done." Ultimately, King Arthur and Sir Robin (who shows up with his own minstrels) both say "it" several times in conversation (unaware that "it" was the word that was causing the Knights' pain). However earlier in the very same scene the head Knight himself uses the word ("It is a good shrubbery.")

Spamalot[edit]

The Knights appear in Spamalot, the 2005 Broadway musical "lovingly ripped off" from the film, with their first scene virtually unchanged. The Knights' new name changes almost nightly, improvised by the actor playing the lead Knight (originally Hank Azaria), but always starting with "Ecky Ecky Ecky F'tang F'tang Olé Biscuitbarrel..." which itself references several famous sketches from Monty Python's Flying Circus, including Election Night Special. King Arthur refers to them as "The artists formerly known as the Knights who say Ni", a reference to Prince. The other major change in the scene is that the renamed Knights no longer demand another shrubbery, but this time that King Arthur put on a musical and take it to Broadway (on the slight condition that it doesn't have anything to do with Andrew Lloyd Webber). King Arthur does attempt to fulfil this quest in the second act until the Lady of the Lake tells him that he is already in a musical.

Origin[edit]

In the DVD commentary for the film, Michael Palin says that their use of the word was derived from The Goon Show.[2] Other parallels to The Goon Show can also be drawn between the strangled voice of the Knights and the voice of Bluebottle.

See also[edit]

  • Nīþ - word coincidentally shouted by historic Vikings as a gross insult and term of abuse.
  • Llwyni - Welch word for shrubbery

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kevin J. Harty (2002). Cinema Arthuriana. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-1344-1. 
  2. ^ Parker, Alan; O'Shea, Mick (2006). And Now For Something Completely Digital: A Complete Illustrated Guide to Monty Python CDs and DVDs. The Disinformation Company. p. 62. 

Further reading[edit]