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  • Paul Anthony Jones


(n.) nonsense; (phr.) to put the kibosh on something, to bring to an end

four leaved clovers

A full list of words the English language owes to Irish would range from the fairly obvious (leprechaun, banshee) to the fairly surprising (trousers, Tory, slob), with a few etymological question marks thrown in for good measure. One of these is hooligan, which we’ve looked at on the blog before—and another is kibosh.

People have been bringing things to a halt by putting the kibosh on them since the early nineteenth century. Although we’ve included it here in our list of ten Irish words, the theory that it derives from an old Irish expression, caidhpín bháis, for an judge’s black “cap of death” is by no means conclusive—competing theories variously attribute the word to everything from Yiddish to Scots, while others suggest it is and always has been a purely English word.

So if not derived from Irish, why do we put the kibosh on things? Well one theory is that the ki– of kibosh is the same as in words like kersplash! and kaboom!—in other words, it’s just there to emphasise the “bosh” (i.e. the stout hit or blow) that comes after it. Or perhaps kibosh is derived from an even earlier sound-alike, like caboshed (a heraldic term for an animal shown on a coat of arms from the neck up only), kye-boots (a Scots English word for a dairy cow’s shackles), or even courbache (the French name for an Arabian rhinoceros-hide horsewhip). Or maybe it’s from the Yiddish word for “eighteen coins”, which might once have been a slang word for a throwaway amount of money? (Shameless plug: there’s a bit more on that in the HH factbook...)

In truth, etymologists aren’t entire surely, but we’re signing up to the Irish theory here—alongside nine other fascinating Irish etymologies…

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