March 12, 2014

Case File #014.03.12: KIBOSH

Though the word kibosh means “something that serves as an end or a stop,” it is rarely used in anything other than the verb phrase to put the kibosh on (something), which, of course, is used to mean “to put a stop to (something)” or “to decisively end (something).” English speakers have been using kibosh since the early nineteenth century, but interestingly enough, nobody really knows where it came from. Because the word sounds somewhat Yiddish, some etymologists and linguists believe that it may be of Germanic origin, but as of yet, there is scant evidence to support this idea. Another theory is that kibosh could be a phonological attrition of the Old Irish Gaelic phrase cie bas (sometimes spelled caip bháis or caipín báis), which meant “cap of death” and supposedly referred to the hat an Irish judge would don while delivering a sentence of capital punishment. But as with the other theory, no solid evidence has been uncovered to tip the scales in favor of this idea. On the other hand, there is one thing about kibosh that is known for certain: the first person to use it in print was none other than Charles Dickens. Spelling it kye-bosk, Dickens used the word in a bit of Cockney dialogue in one of the stories that would ultimately become part of his collection Sketches by Boz, the first edition of which was published in 1836. The now familiar spelling of kibosh wasn't established until 1865, though, making its first appearance in the third edition of John Camden Hotten's The Slang Dictionary.

©2014 Michael R. Gates

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