An interesting investigation into an idiom that has been claimed to be Irish. The OED (1901) notes ‘origin obscure: It has been stated to be Yiddish or Anglo-Hebraic’.

cassidyslangscam

In Daniel Cassidy’s worthless book of fake etymology, he claimed that the word kibosh or kybosh is of Irish origin. Cassidy was certainly not the first to claim this and his sole authority for saying it was a website called Cork Slang Online. The usual claim in relation to its supposed Irish origin is that it comes from caidhp bháis or caidhp an bháis or caip bháis, meaning a cap or cape of death. Some sources also mention cie báis, but cie is not a possible word in Irish orthography.

While caidhp bháis is given as the name of a fungus in Irish dictionaries (the death cap), there is no evidence that this is an ancient expression and it may have been composed on the pattern of the English phrase death cap in the 20th century.

There are various explanations for the meaning of caidhp bháis as…

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6 Comments

  1. Hi Jeremy, I have just published another account of the Irish links to kybosh based on information in the Irish News Archives. In 1909, someone in the Freeman’s Journal claimed that a scholar called Lloyd had published the claim that kybosh came from an Irish phrase meaning ‘cap of death’. A couple of days later, Lloyd wrote to the paper to say that this was bunkum and that that wasn’t what he said at all! However, for decades after that, the fake version has resurfaced on a regular basis in the Irish press. Bizarre! 🙂

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      1. As you say, and demonstrate in the blog piece, John, an early example of a proto-meme – and one coming from a most obscure source. I’m nursing a broken metatarsal, now on the mend, fortunately, otherwise all good. I hope all’s well with you. :-). PS: I couldn’t help noticing that in the last para but two, beginning ‘He goes on to say’ there’s a verb missing in the second sentence. [That’s déformation professionelle at work, ;-)]

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      2. Well, in Irish, our equivalent of ‘a rainy day’ is lá na coise tinne, the day of the sore foot, so I hope you had something appropriate saved up for it, such as a couple of good books or a bottle of something expensive and French. Many thanks for the heads up on the missing verb. I have corrected it now. What a pity you don’t speak Irish – I could do with a proofreader there as well! 🙂

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  2. Regarding the sentences “The OED (1901) notes ‘origin obscure: It has been stated to be Yiddish or Anglo-Hebraic’,” in 2011, I published this article:

    “After at least 138 years of discussion, the etymological puzzle is possibly solved: the originally British English informalism kibosh as in “put the kibosh on [something]” could come from the clogmakers’ term kybosh ‘iron bar which, when hot, is used to soften and smooth leather’ (with possible reinforcement from Western Ashkenazic British English khay bash ‘eighteen pence’). Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses. No. 24. Pp. 73-129.

    Sometime after it appeared, I abandoned both suggestions announced in the title, though the article is still of value because:

    1. It clears away heaps of misinformation that have accumulated in connection with the alleged, never proven, and, in fact, impossible Yidish or Hebrew origin of the word.

    2. It sets the record straight on the misprint “kibosk,” and

    3. It corrects mistakes in the entry for the word in The Oxford English Dictionary.

    Today, I do not believe that the word kibosh has any Jewish connection at all.

    The entire article was once downloadable free of charge from one of the websites of the University of Alicante but now I can no longer find it there.

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