[Ads-l] Kibosh, n., OED etymology revision, Dec. 2019

Stephen Goranson goranson at DUKE.EDU
Sun Dec 29 11:13:59 EST 2019

Origin: Of unknown origin.
Etymology: Origin unknown.
Early evidence appears to be from colloquial and working-class English as spoken in London. There have been a number of attempts to trace the origin of the word; the following are the principal suggestions:

1. Some early uses suggest the kibosh may originally have been a physical object, used for striking, and the word has therefore been suggested to be < Arabic kirbāš (also kurbāš ), denoting a kind of whip used for judicial punishment, or its etymon Ottoman Turkish qirbāch (see kourbash n.<https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/104408#eid40056215>). If so, it may have been borrowed in London from immigrants or from those who served in the military in the Near East. The pronunciation of the first syllable seems difficult to explain in this case; however, a form kibosh is also attested occasionally in the 19th cent. as a variant of kourbash n.<https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/104408#eid40056215> For a detailed discussion of this suggestion compare G. Cohen, S. Goranson, & M. Little Origin of Kibosh (2018).

2. The word is also often taken to reflect an Irish phrase caidhp bháis ( < caidhp coif, bonnet + báis , genitive of bás death: see baser n.<https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/15879#eid26793087>). This phrase is variously said to denote the head covering worn by a judge when pronouncing a death sentence, the hood used at executions, the final item of clothing to be put on a body before wake and burial, or a form of torture (compare pitch-cap n. 2<https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/144692#eid29856448>); however, the phrase does not appear to be attested in these senses except once with reference to burial customs (1935); otherwise it is used as the name of the fungus death cap (but this is probably a recent formation after English: see death cap n. at death n. Compounds 2<https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/47766#eid7280955>). There is also no direct 19th-cent. evidence for a connection of the word kibosh to Ireland, although there was a sizeable Irish community in London. The syntax of the full phrase to put..on is similar to the common Irish construction cuir..ar , in the same literal sense (typically with reference to a physical item); however, an isolated Irish example cuireadh an caidhp bháis air mar sgéal ‘the caidhp bháis was put on your story’ (1924) is probably modelled on English that put the kibosh on your story .

3. Another suggestion takes the word to be of Yiddish origin, and there is an early example of it in Jewish usage in London (1835); however, no likely Yiddish etymon is recorded (although there have been various proposals for the further etymology of such a word or phrase, e.g. Hebrew kāḇaš to subject, to subdue, to tread down; compare also Hebrew kibbeš to subdue, which is < the same base).

Later senses.

In some later uses (especially in North America) perhaps with reinterpretation of the first element as a variant of ker- prefix<https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/102972#eid40107085>.

It is unclear if sense 2<https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/103257?rskey=GsQfH2&result=1&isAdvanced=false#eid40147449> is the same word; it has been suggested that the first syllable is a borrowing < an unattested Yiddish word < Hebrew ḥay eighteen, either reflecting the pronunciation of ḤY , Hebrew numeral for 18, or a specific use (in gematria) of ḥay life. With this sense perhaps compare also (or alternatively) posh n.1<https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/148301#eid28902725> or its ultimate etymon Welsh Romani påš half.

In sense 3<https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/103257?rskey=GsQfH2&result=1&isAdvanced=false#eid40147413> perhaps reinterpreted as an alteration of bosh n.3<https://www.oed.com/view/Entry/21744#eid16460331>
1834   Standard 27 Nov.   Vot the Duke of Vellington put the kibosh on 'em for, and sarve 'em right.
S. Goranson

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

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