bubkes/bupkis, etc.

Victor Steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Dec 2 13:35:29 UTC 2010

As has been discussed on ADS-L--and just about everywhere else--there
are multiple spellings of "bupkis". However, "bupkis" is the OED head
spelling (with variants b[o/u][b/p]k[e/i/u]s[s]).

Barry Popik has a post in the archives from May 17, 1999:

> The RHHDAS has this Liebling citation under _bupkis_(1942). Is it
> _bubkis_ or _bupkis_, 1941 or 1942?...ANGLISH/YINGLISH has "BUHPkis n.
> Literally, beans" on pg. 19. DREK! has "Bobkes (BUB-kis)--literally,
> goat turds" on pg. 23. Bubkis, bupkis, beans, goat turds--let's call
> the whole thing off!

Not sure what the source was for Drek! but here's the entry in 1967 Fred
Kogos's A Dictionary of Yiddish Slang & Idioms:

> Beblech   Beans
> ...
> Bobkes   Small things, triflings, peanuts, nothing, worthless (Lit.
> Excreta of sheep, goats)
> ...
> Bubkes   Beans; a mere bagatelle; (Slang, see Bobkes)
> ...
> Beans   Bubkes, beblech

[NB: ch==kh==X]

Not that it's utterly useless, but it's an elegant--if
fictional--solution. The two hypothetical origins are simply separated
by listing alternate spellings. On the other hand, perhaps this is
correct, and the two words /used/ to be separate, but then merged in the
Anglicized form, once removed from the migrant generation.

There is a third possibility--one is really just a derivative of the
other. In this case, it would seem that "beans" would be the original
meaning and "goat/sheep pellets" would be euphemistically referred to as
"beans". Hence the same word for both... which eventually evolves to
represent something small, unimportant, useless. One thing it does not
mean is "nothing", which is the way it is frequently used today.

Perhaps it's just scale inflation--after all, it takes a lot more than
bupkis to get you a cup of coffee or to get you on the subway today.


OED has an entry for "tush":

> tush n.4   slang (chiefly N. Amer.).   = backside n. 3.
> Etymology:  Abbrev. or diminutive of tochus n.

Kogos's entry is somewhat more restrictive:

> Tush   Buttocks (refers only to an infant's)

That makes sense to me (although I can't confirm it with the natives).


Another entry worth noting is

> K'nish   vagina

... in case there was any doubt.


More general observation: I noticed quite a number of clearly Slavic
words ("barabantschik", "molodyets"--both in Kogos's spelling) and other
words that were quite familiar from both languages, but with no clear
direction from one to the other. One example is "kurveh"--which is a
standard Polish slang for prostitute (kurwa) and a fairly common Russian
word for "hussy" or slut (kurva). I've always wondered about the origin
of this one. It might be related to the Slavic root kur- that basically
means "chicken" (Russian "kuritsa"=="hen", "kurinnyi" =="[from] chicken"
adj.). Then, again, it might not.


One other observation. I was discussing past investigations and posts
into the origin of "the whole nine yards" with a friend. My friend was
absolutely startled--the way she heard it, the origin was "the whole
nine yards of the Torah scroll" or something of that sort. Essentially,
"the whole nine yards" was the same as "the whole megillah"--just a
different scroll. I got no evidence for this claim other than it's out
there, in collective wisdom. I make no claims to its
authenticity--merely passing it along. It seems rather doubtful, as most
of the early appearances of "the whole nine yards" all originated in the
Midwest/Great Plains.


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