Knights who say Ni
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The Knights Who Say Ni 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 (//, like knee but clipped short). They are the keepers of the sacred words: Ni, Peng and Neee-Wom.
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 Ziiinnggggggg Ni!" Because of the challenging pronunciation, King Arthur simply refers to them as "The Knights Who 'Til Recently Said Ni." Originally, the name was to be changed to, "The Knights Who Go Ni... Whom... Ping."
The Knights happen to have a weakness in that a number of words, when spoken to them, has 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 knights) 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.")
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.
In the DVD commentary for the film, Michael Palin says that their use of the word was derived from The Goon Show. Other parallels to The Goon Show can also be drawn between the strangled voice of the Knights and the voice of Bluebottle.
- Nīþ - word coincidentally shouted by historic Vikings as a gross insult and term of abuse.
- Kevin J. Harty (2002). Cinema Arthuriana. McFarland. ISBN 0-7864-1344-1.
- 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.
- Topping, Richard (2007). Monty Python: From the Flying Circus to Spamalot. ISBN 978-0-7535-1315-6. Retrieved 2011-08-21.
- Driver, M (2004). The medieval hero on screen: representations from Beowulf to Buffy. ISBN 978-0-7864-1926-5. Retrieved 2011-08-21. "Aspects of medieval narrative and the playful use of language more generally...may be more fully explored in the scene of the "Knights Who Say Ni" for example, in which words are imbued with irrational power."
- Larsen, Darl (2003). Monty Python, Shakespeare, and English Renaissance drama. ISBN 978-0-7864-1504-5. Retrieved 2011-08-21.
- Hunter, Stephen (2001-09-21). "Python's 'Grail': Extra Silly". The Washington Post. Retrieved 21 August 2011. "This verbal lunacy reaches its height in a masterpiece of zaniness where the wandering knights encounter some other armored blokes who identify themselves as the Knights Who Say 'Ni.' That's all they do, is say 'Ni.'"