Ilk Meaning: Here’s What it Means and How to Use It

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There are some words in the English language that just seem a bit strange. 

Many words are historic and important, but they just don’t have as much usage in the modern-day as they once did. 

Ilk is one of those words. You might encounter it when reading an older piece of literature. Or, maybe you have heard it when talking to a well-educated, pretentious person with an expansive vocabulary and were confused by its ambiguity

In any case, today’s word of the day is ilk. After reading this complete guide to ilk, its meaning, its etymology, and how to use it, you’ll have a full understanding of the word and be able to use it for yourself. 

Let’s get started. 

What Is the Definition of Ilk?

The word ilk has a fairly simple definition. It may sound a bit archaic in use, but it can be quite a helpful term, and it is used in some helpful phrases. Here is the most common definition of ilk. 

Noun, pronounced ɪlk or ihlk

  • A specific type of thing or group of things, usually having been already mentioned in the conversation. 

The word is not commonly used on its own, but it is commonly used in the phrase “of that ilk.”  This phrase simply means “of that type.” The phrase is most commonly used when referring to a general type of thing that somebody has already talked about in that conversation. 

The determiner “that” helps to signify that the person is referencing one specific group. This idiom is the main way that the word ilk has been utilized throughout its history.

The phrase is common when referring to a general kind of person. It can be used to group people by occupation, status, or personality type. So the phrase of that ilk could be used to refer to a particular group of people.

In the Scottish dialect, the word can also have a slightly different definition:

  • A specific name, family, or family name

So, if you hear Scots mention the phrase of that ilk, they are most likely referring to a person that is of the same family as another aforementioned person. 

Where Did the Word Ilk Come From?

The word ilk, like many English words, goes back to the ancient Germanic languages, even before Old English was around. 

In its early, Germanic form, the word was ilca, which means “same.” As Old English began to take its form, the Old English ilca came about, and it ended up fusing with the Old English gelīc, meaning “alike.” In its Germanic and Old English form, it has been used since the 1100s. 

The words have similar origins and meanings and were eventually combined. As English evolved, the spelling and pronunciation changed to the Middle English ilke

As English continued to evolve, the word eventually took on its current form in modern English by the 18th or 19th century. It was originally used fairly commonly in British English, but it became especially common in Scotland. 

The English dialect in Scotland took fondly to this word, perhaps because the word’s harshness lends itself well to the Scottish speaking style. It was during this time that the word came to refer to a family name or specific group of people. Today, the word is somewhat used by Scots, a little bit in British English and hardly at all in American English. 

After that, as usage died down, it came to primarily refer to a general type of something and not so much a particular family. Although some people may still use the word or phrase to refer to a family, in today’s English, it is mostly used to refer to a general type of something.

What Are Some Example Sentences for the Word Ilk?

To help bring further clarity to the word ilk and the phrase “of that ilk,” here are some examples of the word and phrase being used in a sentence with each definition. 

Ilk: A General Group of Something

  • Unlike others of its ilk, the Black and Decker drill is sturdy and long-lasting. I’ve had mine for decades.

  • When I’m looking for a new car, I tend to lean towards Toyotas, Kias, Subarus, and others of that ilk.

  • I just don’t really like humbucker pickups in my guitars that much, so I tend to buy telecasters, Danelectros, and other guitars of that ilk.

  • For my furniture, I prefer simplicity, elegance, and practicality, which is why I love the mid-century modern ilk so much. 

Ilk: A Family or Family Name

  • Our family has been feuding with the people of his ilk for generations. It’s not a fight that will die out so easily.

  • The people of that ilk are known for their generosity, which is why the people have let them stay in power for so long.

  • The men of that ilk are spineless snakes with no loyalty and a crafty tongue, but the women are known to be kind, beautiful, and good-hearted. 

What Are Some Synonyms for Ilk?

Here are some synonyms for the word ilk that you might find in a thesaurus or English dictionary.

Ilk: A General Group of Something

  • Brand
  • Class
  • Set
  • Sort
  • Persuasion
  • Denomination
  • Variety
  • Breed
  • Cut
  • Description

Ilk: A Family or Family Name

  • Family 
  • Kin
  • Blood
  • Clan
  • People
  • Kinship
  • Kinfolk
  • House
  • Tribe
  • Relation

Other Obscure Definitions

If you’re involved in cellular science, you might have seen this word used in another way. The acronym ILK stands for “integrin-linked kinase,” which is a specific type of protein that is important in genetic biology. 

Ilk: An Oldie But a Goodie

Although the word ilk is quite an old one and is hardly used in today’s language, it is still an important word to know. As you read old literature, you might come across it, and now you have a good understanding of this word, so you won’t have to be confused again. Not to mention, you have a great way to get rid of a K when you’re playing Scrabble. 

If you ever need a refresher on the word ilk for your writing or just for more knowledge, just come back to this article for the information you need. 


ILK | Cambridge English Dictionary 

Ilk | History of Ilk | Idiom Origins

Integrin-linked kinase (ILK) and its interactors: a new paradigm for the coupling of extracellular matrix to actin cytoskeleton and signaling complexes | Journal of Cell Biology