[Ads-l] Put the kibosh on: Evidence it referred to a whip, #1

Douglas G. Wilson douglas at NB.NET
Fri Jun 15 20:12:21 EDT 2018

On 6/15/2018 10:40 AM, Cohen, Gerald Leonard wrote:
> I am puzzled by the suggestion below that the writer of
> the poem Penal Servitude used the word lash
> merely to make up a quatrain, i.e., for its rhyme with
> the word smash. By that interpretation the word lash
> here is meaningless, but nowhere in the verses of
> Penal Servitude do we see the writer inserting a
> meaningless word.

I did not suggest anything about the word "lash" in the poem. Maybe 
Gerald Cohen means the word "kibosh"?

Here is the stanza in question, as written:

There is one little dodge I am thinking,
That would put your profession all to smash.
It would put on the kibosh like winking,
That is if they was to introduce the lash.

Here is my interpretation or rewording:

There is one little trick, I think,
That would completely ruin your profession.
It would put the kibosh/stopper [on your profession] in an instant,
That is, if they were to introduce whipping.

I believe "kibosh" here has the same meaning as "kibosh" in (say) 2018: 
"check" or "stop" (noun, NOT defined as a [type of] whip or other 
concrete object).

> ....
> Also, outside of Penal Servitude there are several
> pieces of other evidence that the word kibosh referred
> to a whip (e.g. the unambiguous quote in the 1892 book by
> French-Sheldon), and since that definition makes perfect
> sense in the poem Penal Servitude, why should it not be
> accepted at face value there?
> ....

One "kibosh" (= "type of whip") is found in a single 1892 source (but 
not definitely as an English word), another "kibosh" (the familiar word 
used today) is found in hundreds of sources at least over 160+ years, 
several other "kibosh" words (or senses) are occasionally found. 
Furthermore, to my perception, "kibosh" = "stopper" fits pretty well 
here while "kibosh" = "whip" seems unnatural.

The 1892 book uses "kibosh" repeatedly, apparently meaning the same as 
"kurbash", when discussing/describing the flogging of subordinates in 
East Africa. It is italicized, suggesting it is taken to be a foreign 
word. This can be considered supportive of the "kibosh"<"kurbash" 
etymology, but in my opinion EVEN IF a word "kibosh" meaning "kurbash" 
or "whip" or so was available in English in 1830-1860 (say), it would 
not have been the same "kibosh" as that in the poem, which I believe to 
be the same "kibosh" used today. Again, although only the poet can have 
known with 100% certainty what he intended, I do not believe it is at 
all likely that "kibosh" in English meant anything like "whip" in the poem.

Again, I do NOT assert that there is NO evidence anywhere to support the 
hypothesis "kibosh"<"kurbash". The 1892 book arguably shows such 
evidence. But I myself don't see any such evidence at all in the poem 
"Penal Servitude".

In the poem, "you" often seems to refer to Englishmen in general; in the 
stanza in question it seems to refer to English criminals ("your 
profession") ... I'm not sure of how to interpret this. The second and 
third lines in the stanza have nearly the same meaning, as I see it.

-- Doug Wilson

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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