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white knight

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noun

a hero who comes to the rescue.
a beleaguered champion who fights heroically for a cause, as in politics.
Informal. a company that comes to the rescue of another, as to prevent a takeover.

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Origin of white knight

First recorded in 1890–95
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2021

ABOUT THIS WORD

What else does white knight mean?

In internet slang, a white knight is a man who comes to the unsolicited defense of a woman online, in the hopes of romantic or sexual favor.

A white knight can also more generally refer to someone who rushes to the defense of another online, usually a person whose actions aren’t seen as worthy of defense.

How is white knight  pronounced?

[ wahyt nahyt ]

What are some other forms of white knight?

white-knighting

What are some other words related to white knight?

Where does white knight come from?

The notion of a white knight dates back to at least the 12th century, when French poet Chrétien de Troyes referred to the legendary Lancelot as the Blanc Chevalier (“White Knight” in French) in his Arthurian writings. The greatest of King Arthur’s knights, Lancelot was the height of gallantry and chivalry—and, less purely, lover of Queen Guinevere.

While Lancelot was the White Knight, white knight has been used to name anyone who comes to the defense or rescue of someone since the early 1600s. It can also mean a “champion” more generally. This term is occasionally used alongside a knight in shining armor to bring to mind images of valiant knights saving maidens from dragons in medieval romances. And it does see metaphorical uses in very non-romantic contexts. For instance, a last-minute bailout may be described as a white knight for a struggling bank.

In contemporary internet culture, especially on forums and online games, white knight has taken on a negative meaning. Online, a white knight refers to a man coming to the rescue of a woman who never asked for help—and most likely doesn’t need it. This white knight sees the female internet surfer as a damsel in distress in discussions on message boards, incapable of standing up for herself while she’s making her own arguments. And this white knight, it is commonly thought, is only performing his mission in hopes of romantic rewards that the woman “owes” him for his aid—suggesting the very trope of the white knight has always been less than purely noble.

The internet white knight appeared as early as 2007 in a post on the humor site Something Awful by user Evan Wade called “A Few Words on the Internet White Knight.” The post defined at length what an internet white knight is and the delusional rationale for their behavior.

White knight became used in the 2010s as an insult used by internet trolls to put down men speaking out against sexist behavior. They accuse such men as acting as white knights to discredit them and characterize their concerns as insincere.

Into the 2010s, the slang white knight further evolved to refer to a person who makes a post or comment in defense of someone else online—as if they are rushing to save them from criticism. This act of defense, often referred to as white-knighting, is widely seen as objectionable.

How is white knight used in real life?

White knight continues to be used as a metaphor for a rescuer or champion of some cause, although often to playful or ironic effect.

 

Online, white knight often appears as a verb (e.g., to white-knight someone) or gerund (e.g., to engage in white-knighting).

Internet white-knighting is variously seen as condescending (from the viewpoint of people who feel it implies women can’t stand up for themselves or need saving); insincere (from the viewpoint of people who see the behavior as having an ulterior motive); or weak (from the sexist viewpoint of men who mock other men for sticking up for women).

White-knighting is also used more generally for speaking up for someone else online, especially someone whose actions aren’t seen as defensible.

More examples of white knight:

“Before you go white knighting, make sure your colleague actually wants your help. If she’d like you to speak to the brass on her behalf, go ahead, but she may prefer a subtler vote of confidence: someone to gently push her to ask for a raise herself, or to help come up with a solid case as to why she deserves more.”

—Urban Diplomat (column), Toronto Life, April 2018

How to use white knight in a sentence

British Dictionary definitions for white knight

white knight

noun

a champion or rescuer, esp a person or organization that rescues a company from financial difficulties, an unwelcome takeover bid, etc
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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